Unesco Cultural Heritage: Turkish Coffee

Turkish coffee is every emotion that gathered up to fill a petite coffee cup

Unesco Cultural Heritage: Turkish Coffee

There are some scents that entice your senses.

As this would be a few drops of Chanel No.5 Marilyn Monroe wore every night with her own words, it could also be another type of scent being exuded from another source that had come into existence and started to captivate people long before perfume made its appearance.

Like the scent of coffee…

Like the scent of Turkish coffee…

Turkish coffee is the most sincere, the most pleasant and basic form of coffee. It is important to the Turkish community. As Turkish coffee is served sweet to the minors, we serve it bitter (unsweetened) to our fellows. While we say “Oh, I don’t believe it,” we still expect help from its dregs (telve) for fortune-telling; even we even ask for a girl’s hand in marriage only when we sip foamy Turkish coffee from the cup. We show extreme care for everything from its cezve to its demitasse (fincan), from its serving tray to its presentation, we serve it almost like a ritual.

For the coffee in question, that has been drawing people together with its charm, we’re bound to mention a sheepherder named Khalid who was tending his sheep in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia. If Khalid hadn’t noticed his sheep became livelier after getting slumberous grazing in the heat of the day; If the coffee beans exported to Yemen hadn’t been roasted and ground within the hands of derwishes, and Sufîs hadn’t spread this savor to all of the peninsula, it would be barely possible for our conversation to brew up to this degree!

It didn’t take too long before this plant of Ethiopian origins endeared itself to the people, filling the cups with its savor. Coffee is known to make its entrance to the Ottoman palace during the reign of Selim I or Suleiman the Magnificent if not certain. It even became so ingrained in the cuisine of the palace that a new title Kahvecibaşı (Chief Coffee Maker) was added to the list of palace functionaries. Following that time, the kitchen wagons laden with coffee went wherever the Ottoman flag was carried to.  In the early 16th century, the region this passion gained popularity came under the Ottoman rule.

The reason behind the introduction of coffee to Europe was the wars. As the Austrian attempted to dump the sacks of coffee left by the retreating Ottoman army to the Danube thinking that the sacks were loaded with camel feed; the globetrotter and a spy, Franz Kolschitzky realized their mistakes and saved scads of coffee sacks from the river and then opened “The Blue Bottle Coffee House” using them, near the St. Stephen Cathedral in Vienna, which is thought to be the first café in Europe. The populace memorialized his name with a monument in the same street.

Turkish coffee was consumed in Europe over many years; but with the invention of the espresso machine by the Italians, in the wake of the Second World War, the heyday of Turkish coffee was over.


The Finest State of Arabica

There are two main types of commercial coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. Made from ground and roasted Arabica beans with their soft taste and aromatic flavor, Turkish coffee is so fragile that it gets stale and loses its aroma in a short period of time. This means that Nespresso method, also the product with the same name which was found in 1988 is not an appropriate method for Turkish coffee. Moreover, I wouldn’t say I favor those coffee-like products in single-serve packets that come with the various chemicals in them either!

Some of the coffee machines that made their way into our lives seven years ago may give some successful results. But again, as I said in the beginning of the article: Turkish coffee is a ritual with every stage of its process. Added to that, trying to get enough foam from cezve to share it among demitasses is just a part of this pleasure.

Turkish coffee is like a spoiled child, it demands care. Cezve can’t warm up enough when you’re waiting over it and just boils over in seconds if you leave it alone. It almost complains that you should never leave it alone, ever. When someone finally manages to get enough foam, it is best served in demitasses that are thin like paper and slender like a bride. It is whimsical; you finish the cup when you’re just about to start enjoying it. Because of that, you drink it with little sips, just like the kisses given to a lover.

At this point, the question “Is it alright to slurp Turkish coffee?” might come to mind. Although it looks like a disrespectful manner from the outside; in order to enjoy its taste to the full, one should absolutely slurp down his/her coffee! Because it is only when the coffee bubbling with air touches the palate, it can reveal its real taste to someone.

Sweets and water that accompany the demitasse in its serving are two complementary things that appeal to the eyes and the taste buds. Ottoman people who liked their coffee plain and bitter, grew a habit of putting some sweets or lokma next to demitasse and they formed the basis of relation between Turkish delight (lokum) or chocolate and Turkish coffee. During those times, there was also a secret message attached to the water that was served to sweep away all the other tastes in the mouth and enable one to concentrate on the taste of the coffee. If a visitor felt hungry, s/he wouldn’t say that directly, but if s/he drank first the water and then the coffee, so the house-owners would prepare the dinner table immediately. Otherwise, it meant that the visitor did not feel hungry.

As Turkish coffee has a variety of brewing and serving methods, using a copper or steel cezve is the number one rule to capture its flavor. Aluminum appliances which are preferred for their low cost have an interaction with coffee that ends up in affecting its taste in a negative way.

The former and the main method to brew Turkish coffee is the one done on ashes and embers, but it became less popular due to the fact that most people don’t have barbecue pits in their houses anymore. This kind of Turkish coffee can be found only in a limited number of cafés today and it is called “coffee over ashes or ash coffee” (tr. kül kahvesi). “Flirtatious coffee” (tr. cilveli kahve) is another kind of Turkish coffee that gets its name from the girls who reach their marriageable ages and it is served with some double roasted and ground almonds on top of its foam. In addition to flirtatious coffee which is famous in Manisa region, “cavalier coffee” (tr. süvari kahvesi) is another example of types of Turkish coffee; it is prepared without sugar and served in tulip-shaped tea glasses.

Turpentine coffee” and “mırra” do not belong to the category of Turkish coffee. Turpentine coffee is made from the fruit of Pistacia Terebinthus or the Turpentine Tree and brewed with milk, while “mırra” –which I couldn’t take a liking to- is prepared by brewing coffee over a few times and it’s famous in Adana, Şanlıurfa and Mardin.


A Place to Socialize: Coffeehouse

A good reason to chit chat, Turkish coffee has become a medium for people to establish friendships and vitalized social life with “coffeehouse” (tr. kahvehane) culture that it brought with itself. The first coffeehouses that emerged in Tahtakale during the 16th century became the first place for people to socialize as they would go to mosques for worshipping and to their houses for some privacy.  Having been preferred as meeting places by many people from all walks of life including students, bureaucrats, shopkeepers and janissaries; coffeehouses faced a close-down during the reign of Murad III because they became places for rebellious activities. But most people were already addicted to coffeehouses by then. The administration couldn’t cope with illegal coffeehouses and was naturally obliged to remove the bans. Today, “Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi,” continues to serve “a cup of conversation” to his customers that form a long line in front of his coffeehouse in “Tahmis street” which still exists in Tahtakale; Tahmis originally means a place where ground and roasted coffee beans are sold.

The fact that Turkey has become one of the countries that tea consumption per capita is very high following the promotion of tea consumption during the first years of the republic, doesn’t change the fact that Turkey is essentially a country of “coffee shops” and “coffeehouses.” Because, for Turkish people, coffee is still on the top of the list of means to socialize. Being also a proper drink for the “International Slow Food Movement” founded years ago by the Italian journalist, Carlo Petrini; Turkish coffee, I think, is more than a good opportunity for the modern people to have a conversation.

I can tell from the comments of my foreign visitors; following a nice dinner, Turkish coffee is also good for digestion. It is a passion that also gives a boost to the digestives like “cognac,” “Armagnac” and “calvados” of France; “grappa” of Italy; “fruit schnapps” of Austria.

I can’t even understand those restaurants which do not have such a taste in their menus. Every time when I hear the words “We don’t serve Turkish coffee!” in a Turkish restaurant which fancies itself a refined one, I get goose bumps! It is a shameful event for Turkish restaurants that such a 500-year-old tradition is thrown out of their menus.


UNESCO Cultural Heritage: Turkish Coffee

When Nestle put its product “Nescafe” to the market in the 1980s, Turkey too was introduced to the instant coffee concept and Turkish coffee lost its popularity in this process. But again, without losing anything from its traditional value and quality of taste, Turkish coffee was eventually admitted to the “Intangible Cultural Heritage List” of UNESCO in the month of December. As a result, this taste that has been around for five centuries has become an internationally-certified Turkish trademark with its brewing method, although not necessarily with its basic material.

With its brewing method, its serving, the poems written about it, the adages about it that orally passed onto our generation, the fortune-telling from its dregs, the memory it left in our souls to be remembered for forty years and more; Turkish coffee suits perfectly to this list. But mostly with the sensations it left on us…

The reason is that every cup of Turkish coffee has a different taste. Although it is the same coffee with its foam, color, smell and fume; yet again, first it goes through the filter of our souls and fills the cups. This is the reason why its taste changes in accordance with whom, one shares his/her coffee time. There are times that Turkish coffee means either:

Sorrow, that brings two friends together, searching for a way out of the tears that shed, with every sip out of the cups.

Peace, that visits over when the conversation among the family deepens after the Sunday brunches, refreshing the spirits.

Intimacy, that grandmother, her daughter and granddaughter shares when they sit at the same table, connecting the three generations in a language they find in common.

Hope, as one feels over the upside-down cups, although his/her lack of faith in fortune-telling, desiring for good news that will come out of the mouth.

A reward, that will make an exhausted warrior of the work day utter “How wonderful! What a relief!”

A savior, that takes one’s arms like a star performer, after a pleasant night out, and keeps him/her awake.

An invitation, that becomes the creator of the first dates and every other meeting following the question “Would you like to drink something?”

A mischievous test, that reveals the spirit of the lover. If the words “As with the command of God and the word of the prophet…” were uttered, the groom should drink his coffee even it is salty as a Turkish tradition.

Solitude at times, that accompanies one with every sip on the balcony, filling him/her with deep thoughts. It tastes bitter, but then you know it gives you a sense of peace.

Turkish coffee is every emotion that gathered up to fill a petite coffee cup. To complement its taste, it needs a friend to have a chitchat with, most of the time a lover, a piece of chocolate, maybe a cube of Turkish delight; but before everything else a taste for life.



Bon appétit and enjoy your life!


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