Turkish Coffee

turkish coffee kettle

If you have been to Turkey, you may have tried Turkish Coffee, the local traditional way of making coffee. If you haven’t, you missed something. Turkey and the then Ottoman empire has played an important role in coffee’s short but intense history.

Of all the unchristian beverages that ever passed my lips, Turkish coffee is the worst. The cup is small, it is smeared with grounds; the coffee is black, thick, unsavory of smell, and execrable in taste. The bottom of the cup has a muddy sediment in it half an inch deep.

Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad

Quick History of Turkish Coffee

In the early 15th century, coffee is traded in the Arabic Peninsula, and used by Sufi to stay awake during their rituals. Coffee spreads slowly to other regions of the Muslim world as Mecca pilgrims bring it back home, in Egypt, Syria, Turkey. First coffee houses open in Istanbul in 1554, a few years after a ban on coffee, stimulants being prohibited by the Islamic law, was overturned.

From Turkey coffee spread to Europe. In particular, after the Battle of Vienna in 1683, the victorious Austrian army seized Turkish supplies and its stocks of coffee. The same year the first coffee opened in Vienna. Coffee at that time was a standard supply in the army, and had been a social drink in Turkey for almost one and a half century.

The Ritual

After coffee arrived in Istanbul, it quickly made it to the court, where it became a ceremony, with specialised cooks brewing for the king. Later it became a part of important festivities, and before marrying the bride would show her skills by brewing and offering coffee to the groom’s family.

Nowadays, drinking Turkish Coffee can also be a ritual among friends. It is part of the Turkish cultural heritage, and numerous songs and literature references abound.

turkish coffee on cloth
Turkish coffee ready to be enjoyed

The ritual includes more than just preparing the coffee. It is a social experience between people. When happening among friends, the ceremony is quite different than a formal ceremony which could be compared to the Chinese tea ceremony, where a specialised waiter or “artist” leads the ceremony and does everything, while guests sit and drink.

Among friends, coffee is not prepared in advance. It is made together by all participants, gathered around the heating stove. Traditionally, each participant heats his own kettle; however all are gathered around the hot stove on which rests a sand bath. Kettles are heated in the sand, and each is watching over his own.

The Recipe of Turkish Coffee

The main idea behind Turkish coffee is to heat the grounded coffee with water and serve it without filtering. Traditionally, the coffee is made a single dose (about 20-40g) at a time, and includes grinding the coffee beans. Grinding started in a mortar with a small pestle, before using a dedicated grinder. Nowadays coffee powder is usually bought directly at the bazaar.

  1. A dose of coffee powder is mixed with how much sugar is desired, from none to 2-3 teaspoons. This is lightly mixed then put in the kettle.
  2. The coffee is then slowly heated to almost a boil but quite not. Some foam starts forming on the top, and should be transferred to the cup.
  3. The coffee is heated some more, maybe transferring the foam to the cup once or twice more. The brew shouldn’t be allowed to boil.
  4. After at least 5 minutes of brewing, for the flavors to fully develop and migrate from the ground, the whole content of the kettle is poured in the cup, including the ground, that will settle down at the bottom.
  5. Coffee is served with a cup of water and a sweet.

You can have a look at this video for more visual tips about how to make the coffee.

The water is to be drunk before the coffee to rinse and cleanse the palate. If you’ve been to Turkey, you know how they love all kinds of sweets, and how the average Turk is on the chubby side because of that. The coffee must be drunk slowly; the foam shouldn’t be disturbed much.

Tasseomancy: Reading the coffee grounds

Tasseomancy is the art of fortune telling in the ground left, since every coffee cup comes with it’s ground and is not filtered. After you’ve finished drinking, gently whirl the ground and pour it in the cup, let it cool. Your host is ready to examine the patterns and find information.

The art of tasseomancy is delicate and requires experience. You may not see much more than the ground, and a few random patterns, crevices revealing the white porcelain below. However the fortune teller knows more. He will be able to perceive omens, both good, in the crevices shape and disposition, and bad, in the black mounds of grounded coffee. There is no limit to what can be read, about your life, your loved ones, your environment.

If you cannot find good fortune in the coffee ground, let at least the time you enjoy such a wonderfully complex and delicate coffee be a time where you can stop for a moment and just be there with the flavors. It can and has to be an experience, the meaning of the Turkish coffee ritual is more than merely drinking a cup of Joe but a full moment of delight.

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