“A cup of coffee commits one to forty years of friendship” (Turkish proverb)
In the days of the Ottoman Sultans, coffee became such an important feature of palace life, that a position of Chief Coffee Maker (kahvecibasi) was created by the palace. His duty was to brew the Sultan’s coffee, and a key job requirement was an ability to keep secrets.
The popularity of Turkish coffee soon spread to the public, and further throughout Europe as a result of Turkey’s position on key trade routes. Coffee houses soon sprang up, first in Istanbul, and later in other parts of Turkey. In Ottoman times, coffee houses were arty places – somewhere to gather to discuss poetry, play backgammon or read books.
Turkish coffee is not just a drink – it is an important social ritual. In Ottoman times women socialised with each other over coffee and sweets, while men drank it together in coffee houses.
Turkish coffee is not drunk at breakfast, but often drunk after lunch or dinner, or for “morning coffee” – around 11am. It is a drink to be savoured and shared with friends.
Back in the day, the coffee was prepared by roasting the beans over a fire, then finely grinding them and cooking it with water on the ashes of a charcoal fire. Today Turkish coffee is cooked in a pot with sugar according to taste, then served in a small cup where the grounds are allowed to settle. The key to making Turkish coffee is to make sure that the water is hot, but not boiling, so that the flavours can be extracted.
A thick layer of foam on top of the coffee is considered to be the sign of a great cup of Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is usually served with a glass of water.
When you are ordering Turkish coffee, your waiter will ask you how sweet you want your coffee. This is because sugar is added during the boiling process. It can’t be added afterwards as this would stir up the grinds.
There are three ways to order it:
- Sade (no sugar)
- Orta (‘medium’ – just little sugar)
- Sekerli (sweet)
If you are sharing your coffee with a local, you may notice them turn their cup upside down onto the saucer – this is so that someone can “read” their fortune in the grounds of the cup.
Turkish coffee is rich in both flavour and tradition and well worth a try when you visit Turkey.