“Turkish coffee is like crack,” says my new friend from Izmir, quoting a famous British visitor to Turkey. Once you taste it, you just can’t have enough.
What is it about this mysteriously intoxicating and strong caffeinated delight that leaves everyone wanting more?
I remember the first time I ever tried Turkish coffee. I was in a Middle Eastern restaurant in the U.S. I had just moved out of my parents’ house to start college in Philadelphia and, surprisingly enough, I loathed coffee. Despite my strong aversion to all things coffee, a friend insisted that I at least try Turkish coffee because it was “different” and “better.” I took one teeny tiny sip and then decided to buy my own. Something about the rich combination of sugar and coffee, which produced a subtle chocolate-like flavor, got me hooked.
Although I have since fallen victim to the American “water coffee” and I even indulge in Nescafe from time to time, my love of Turkish coffee has only grown. I couldn’t wait to try türk kahvesi in its homeland.
Although many may only associate tea with Turkey because of its widespread availability, coffee plays an extremely important part in the culture and history of the country and other former Ottoman Empire countries. Coffee was first brought to the Ottoman Empire sometime in the 15th century and it was seen as a prestigious beverage that one would find in palaces and wealthy homes. Throughout the centuries, coffee began to generate its own ceremonies and rituals and it played an important role in people’s social lives.
Coffee’s influence on Turkish culture can be seen in many different aspects of life, even in the Turkish language! The word for breakfast, kahvaltI (Kah-vahl-tuh), translates to, “before coffee.” Likewise, the color brown in Turkish is, kahverengi, or, “coffee color.” (this is also true in Spanish-color café).
Nowadays, türk kahvesi is still a special beverage that plays an important role in Turkish culture and society, but it is being replaced by çay (tea), Nescafé and other forms of coffee which are easier to prepare. If you go to Turkey, make sure you order türk kahvesi instead of just kahve (coffee), or you might end up with a cup of Nescafé Gold!
It is also worth noting that Turkish coffee is not a specific kind of coffee, but rather a specific method of preparation. It is prepared using a pot called a, cezve (jehz-vay) and poured into small coffee cups that are slightly larger than espresso cups. Coffee beans are ground into a fine powder and immersed into hot-not boiling-water. Then, the desired amount of sugar is added. There are four different ways to measure the amount of sugar you want in your Turkish coffee: sada (sah-dah) (no sugar), az şekerli (ahz shek air lee) (little sugar), orta şekerli (oar-tah shek air lee) (medium sugar) and çok şekerli (choke shek air lee) (a lot of sugar). After adding sugar, the coffee is heated until it comes to a boil and then it is ready to be poured into cups. A well-prepared cup of Turkish coffee will have coffee grounds at the bottom, a fairly homogenous liquid in the middle, and a thick layer of foam at the top. The thicker the foam, the better the coffee.
When you are finished with your cup of Turkish coffee, turn it over into the saucer to cool. The patterns left on the saucer by the remaining coffee grounds can be used for fortune telling. Ask a friend or a friendly Turk to tell you what your future beholds! Once, a friend read my fortune for me and said that she could see, “a blonde man with broad shoulders who was thinking about me.” Where are you my broad-shouldered blonde prince and what were you thinking?
Whether you are in a Turkish restaurant in New York City or in Istanbul, give yourself the chance to savor a Turkish coffee. But, be warned: you WILL become addicted!