Turkish Coffee

Turkish coffee is worldwide famous drink. According to historians it was Ömer, a dervish in 13th century Yemen, who found out how to use the coffee bean. The man had been expelled from his lodge and was wandering destitute in an uninhabited area. Desperate for food, he boiled the cherry-like fruits of a plant growing there (a coffee plant) and drank the liquid. Coffee became a dervish ritual beverage and was called kahve because in Arabic the word meant wine.

Botanist, however, claim coffee originated in Ethiopia. Supporting this theory is the fact that there is a region in Ethiopia called Kaffa. However, it is said Ethiopians used powdered coffee as flour; they prepared bread with it instead of a drink.

The Governor of Yemen brought coffee to Istanbul in 1543 in the time of Suleyman the Magnificent. The Ottomans thanks to the pilgrims and the campaign of Suleyman’s father, Selim the Grim, and the annexation of Egypt, Arabia and Yemen already knew coffee. Nevertheless, it was not widely used.   

From Istanbul coffee spread to Europe. The first ships carrying this precious cargo arrived in Venice in 1615 and in Marseille in 1653.

Coffee was drunk in France widely after 1669. During the reign of Louis XIV, the Ottoman ambassador’s house was a fashionable place for Parisian nobles to visit. There beautiful young concubines served Turkish coffee in little china cups to guests seated on rosewater sprinkled Ottoman divans. When the ambassador returned to Istanbul, coffee maker of him remained in Paris and opened a coffee house.

The adoption of coffee in Central Europe is another interesting story. The second siege of Vienna became a complete disaster when the Poles went to the aid of Austrians. The defeated Ottoman army left all its supplies behind. As well as thousands of tents, herds of cows and sheep, barrels of honey, butter and cheese, the Ottomans abandoned 500 sacks off coffee beans. An Ottoman interpreter of Polish origin became a spy and stayed in Vienna, was given the coffee in return for his services. He opened a coffee house and served Viennese filtered coffee with milk and honey.

From time to time coffee has been the target of religious bigotry in Ottoman Empire. Coffee sacks were thrown into the sea and coffee houses were banned although there is nothing written in Koran especially about coffee. Those against coffee stressed its effects on people’s health. Sultans who prohibited coffee had a time limit to rule, but coffee still rules.

The end of the Ottoman Empire damaged Turkish coffee culture too. Yemen was lost and coffee became more expensive item. Endless wars damaged the economy. That is why domestic product, tea became more common drink than imported coffee. Because coffee was expensive, in cities some ground coffee sellers mixed it with ground chickpeas and poor people especially in countryside drunk turpentine coffee. Today in kahvehane (coffee house) tea is the main drink. In 90s western coffee shop brands started to invade.

However, it is still important part of our culture. Therefore, legendary Turkish coffee’s peculiarity is the roasting, grounding, cooking, serving and even drinking style.

Originally people bought green coffee beans from coffee sellers and roasted coffee beans in a frying pan and pounded in a mortar or grinded in a hand mill in houses. In late 19th century, coffee sellers started to sell as ground coffee. Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi ve Mahdumlarý (The ground Coffee Seller Mehmet Efendi & Sons) shop in Eminonu district of the Old town of Istanbul was a pioneer for this innovation. You will smell coffee in the street and see lined up people who want to buy fresh ground coffee. You must also buy little coffee cups and cezve, a long handled little pot to make coffee. The bottom is wider and it gets narrower to the top.

Let us prepare a nice cup of coffee: Place a coffee spoon of coffee and a cup of water into coffee pot. If coffee is freshly ground and if water is good spring water you can make better coffee. Add sugar, as you prefer. Put on a low heat and stir slowly. When the coffee begins to rise, remove the cezve and pour a little froth into the cup. Replace cezve back on the heat again and let it rise once more then pour the rest of coffee into the cup. In order to get more froth it is better to use a cezve for one cup. Cezve’s size should be changed in respect of the amount of the cups. It is better to have a copperware cezve. If the heat is very low, boiling time will be longer that makes more froth and aromatic smell, which are partly indicators of a nice cup of coffee. 

Coffee is the main beverage to serve to the guests. At home, coffee is served on a nice tray with a nice lace on it. Actually according to good manner, coffee is served with a glass of cold spring water, Turkish delight in a well-decorated little plate and liqueur in a tiny glass. You drink water first to make your mouth ready for the taste of coffee. Then slowly sip coffee and meanwhile taste Turkish delight. Finally, you can enjoy liqueur. It could be any liqueur but mint liqueur is the common one. These all take time because Turks like coffee chatter. You can start to talk about coffee and its froth, and then jump into the talk about weather or just save the world. Old Turks say:
The heart wants neither coffee nor coffee house
The heart wants a pal coffee is a pretext.

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