Mırra: The dark and bitter cousin of Turkish Coffee

12
WHAT'S SPECIAL

Served in tiny cups, this coffee is much different than one can anticipate. And while normal coffee is sipped to give you a boost at the beginning of the day, this one is laden with traditions – and costly if you are not careful.

What is Mırra?

Technically speaking, it is no different from other coffees ingredients-wise but the preparation is distinctly different. The coffee beans are roasted twice to give it a more bitter taste and then roughly ground. Then this gets cooked several times until it gets thicker and richer in flavor. Some like to add other spices such as cardamom to give it a different flavor profile.

The origins

The history of coffee starts in Africa as it needs the tropical climate to grow. The Middle East got its first coffee beans through Yemen in around the 15th century, making the country the premier producer of coffee for that time. Soon after coffee houses are said to have popped up in Istanbul during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. (1)

The drinking of coffee has become an integral part of Turkish culture, being part of many a custom and tradition. There are so many that the Turkish coffee culture and traditions were inscribed into the UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013. (2)

While many different versions of the coffee have popped up, the Mırra version became a thing in the south and southeastern provinces of Turkey, namely Hatay, Adana, Urfa and Mardin. (3) The addition of cardamom or other spices and the general bitter taste of the coffee itself can be explained by the Arabic influence of the region, considering the immediate proximity of each other. (4)

In the case of Mardin, it is said that you get the best mırra served by Muslims but with the Christians you’d get served the best when coming for condolences. (5) Other sources say that the Arabs and Syriacs in the city would serve these when condolences were in order. With the mingling of the Kurds, the tradition spread further and bled into other customs as well. (4)

The most interesting part is the way Mırra is served and drunk. One might call it a ritual of sorts. A small cup without a handle is filled to about one third. The coffee is drunk all at once. If you do not want to drink anymore, you hand the cup back to the server. But if you put the cup down, you owe the server a cup full of gold or other hefty debts. (6) Usually, you hand the cup to the next person but putting the cup down can be seen as a grave insult to the server as well. That’s why some records say to wipe this insult, the cup needs to be filled with gold or if the serving person is not married yet, the wedding needs to be paid by the “insulter”. As heavy as this sounds this tradition is no longer alive in this manner but rather the server gets a tip. (7)

Etymology

The word Mırra comes from the Arabic “mur” meaning bitter. Some call it “Arabic coffee” as well.

The recipe

While it sounds easy to make, the preparation of Mırra is an art in and of itself. It is handed down from father to son.

The coffee beans are roasted twice and then beaten in a mortar called “dibek” but it is key not to crush it too much as is the case with Turkish coffee. The real long process of this is the cooking part of the coffee. The coffee is cooked and once it gets a bit thicker it is run through a sieve and poured into a pot called “mutbak”. Water is added to this coffee and cooked again. This step is repeated until there are no coffee grounds left (the reason why they shouldn’t be too fine in the first place). This process takes quite a while but makes for an interesting flavor.

 

 

Bibliography

(1) Murat Belge, “Tarih Boyunca Yemek Kültürü”

(2) https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/turkish-coffee-culture-and-tradition-00645

(3) Kristberg Kristbergsson, Jorge Oliveira, Traditional Foods: General and Consumer Aspects, 2016

(4) Neslihan Şimşek, Aykut Göktuğ Soylu, Fügen Durlu Özkaya, The Culinary Interactions of the Anatolian and Arabian Peninsula From the Ottoman Empire in “Journal of Travel and Hospitality Management”, 2020

(5) Mustafa Aksoy, Gülistan Sezgi, Gastronomy Tourism and Southeastern Anatolia Region Gastronomic Elements in “Güneydoğu Anadolu Bölgesi ‘Rehberlikte Uzmanlaşma Eğitimi’”, 2005

(6) Çiğdem Sabbağ, Mardin Yeme İçme Kültürü In “Fırat’tan Volga’ya Medeniyetler Köprüsü”, 2015

(7) Çetin Yildiz, Zengin Kültürü İle Şanliurfa in Fırat’tan Volga’ya Medeniyetler Köprüsü”, 2015

Like
Close
Close