Turkish Coffee – A drink, a tradition, a culture

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

Served in a tiny cup accompanied with a small glass of water and a cube of lokum, there seems to be nothing that captures the image of Turkey better than Turkish coffee. Even though it is the local way of preparing and drinking it, even the Turks call it “Türk Kahvesi” to distinguish it from other kinds.

What is Turkish Coffee?

Turkish Coffee is a drink similar to conventional coffee but differs in preparation. The coffee beans are ground to a very fine powder and are boiled in a cezve (ibriki, briki) with water and sugar. The grounds and coffee are served in a small cup.

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The origins

Coffee comes from the tropical regions of the world and is said to have first come to the Middle East from Africa. In the 15th century, Yemen became the premier producer of coffee. During the reign of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) coffee houses began to open in Istanbul. Travelers from Europe saw the way Turks consumed their coffee and became enamored of it, bringing the dark concoction back home with them. (1)
From then on, the Turks promoted their way of preparing coffee around the world. It was a Turkish Jew who opened the first coffee house in the United Kingdom in 1650, and a Turkish Ambassador to France who hosted parties where he served Turkish coffee. (2)
The popularity of the drink was partially due to the fact that alcohol is forbidden in Islam, and coffee, with its rejuvenating nature, was not met with any resistance from Sunni theologians. (3)
The Greek as they were part of the Ottoman Empire took over this practice as well with the difference that they add gum mastic to the coffee. (4) The reason why this clearly Turkish drink is called Greek in some parts has been due to a coffee brand marketing their product as Greek since the 1990s.
Drinking Turkish coffee has become deeply ingrained in Turkish culture. When a groom asks for the hand of the bride, tradition states that he be served a cup that is either sweet, signaling the bride’s acceptance, or salty, if she refuses him. Nowadays, it is usually served quite salty, almost like a prank, as a means of testing the resolve of the groom. There are many more customs and traditions surrounding this drink – fortune telling is just one of them – so many in fact that Turkish coffee culture and traditions were inscribed into UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013. (5)

Etymology

The word coffee comes from the Arabic word “qahwah,” referring to a type of drink that was known to suppress appetite. The Turks borrowed that word as “kahve” which the Dutch then took over as “koffie.” The word coffee found its way into English in 1582 via the Dutch.

Turkish Coffee - a drink, a tradition, a culture

Turkish coffee is drunk either without anysugar (sade), with a little sugar (orta) or with a lot (şekerli). The coffeebeans are ground to a very fine powder, which is usually done in spice shopscalled “aktar”. Due to its popularity, ground Turkish coffee can be found inalmost any shop in the country. In recent years, there have even been a fewinstant versions of the drink.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon ground coffee
  • up to 3 teaspoons of sugar, optional

Instructions

  • Mix the coffee and sugar in the cezve, a small pot with a long handle, and bring the coffee to a boil on low heat. The coffee can be brought to a boil on high heat as well, but it is said that a slow increase in heat will better bring out the flavor of the beans. Carefully pour the coffee into a cup and serve.
  • The foam that builds on the coffee is sometimes taken off first into the cup with a spoon and after bringing the coffee to a second boil it is then poured. The sign of an impeccable cup of Turkish Coffee is the foam on top of it.

Notes

Bibliography

(1) Murat Belge, “Tarih Boyunca Yemek Kültürü”
(2) Ghillie Basan, “Middle Eastern Kitchen”, 2005
(3) Mohamed Yassine Essid, “History of Mediterranean Food” in CIHEAM, MediTERRA 2012
(4) K.W. Arafat, “A legacy of Islam in Greece: ‘Ali Pasha and Ioannina’”, 2007
(5) https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/turkish-coffee-culture-and-tradition-00645
Course: Drinks, Vegan
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