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Coffee has created its own “culture” in Turkey
are the famous words of the great Turkish 20th century poet, Yahya Kemal. A little bit more than a casual visit to Turkey
would convince anyone that this is the case. Coffee for Turks is not simply a drink, but has its own history, its institutions (coffee-houses), its rituals, its own rules of when and how to drink it, and even a tradition of fortune-telling by reading the coffee grinds deposited at the bottom of a traditional Turkish coffee cup.
Turks were introduced to coffee over four and a half centuries ago. A short while after a governor to Yemen brought back to Istanbul and introduced to the Ottoman capital beans of Coffee Arabica, the metropolitan city was teeming with coffeehouses. Within a century, first Venice, than London and Paris were introduced to coffee via the Ottomans, which naturally acquired its epithet “Turkish” to become “Turkish coffee”. In some Western countries Turkish coffee is also known as Greek coffee as they were introduced to this type of coffee and coffee-making via the Greeks.
Shortly after coffee was introduced to the Ottomans in 1543, it became so popular so quickly those coffeehouses were opened and small shops opened specializing in roasting coffee. Coffee roasting is called “tahmis” and to this day there is a street called Tahmis in the Eminonu neighborhood in Istanbul where the so-called Egyptian spice bazaar is located. Its name derived from the coffee shops located on this street 460 years ago.
The first coffeehouse ever was opened in 1554 during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent. Two people, one person from Aleppo and another from Damascus have opened this coffeehouse jointly in the Tahtakale district of Istanbul, a vibrant commercial center even today. The first people to attend this first coffeehouse were people pursuing the mundane pleasures of idly enjoying the moment (there is a specific word for this in Turkish called “keyif”), but also the educated class of the society. Some would come to read in the coffeehouse, other would play backgammon or chess; some would delve into conversations on art and culture. As other coffeehouses mushroomed, however, the unemployed, troublemakers, and the retired became regulars of coffeehouses. Imams, muezzins (those who sing the call to prayer), and high ranking officials would regularly go to coffee-houses.
Although to this day there are still a few people who either do or at least know the days when coffee was heated on charcoal, for all practical purposes modern electric or gas stove tops became the heating equipment of choice. To make proper Turkish coffee you need Turkish coffee beans, a Turkish coffee pot (“cezve”), and Turkish coffee cups (“fincan”), and optionally, if you want to grind the beans, a Turkish coffee grinder (“kahve degirmeni”). Note that Turkish coffee requires extra fine ground coffee which some electrical grinders fail to produce. To make Turkish coffee:
1. Pour in cold water in the coffee pot. You should use one cup of cold water for each cup you are making and then add an extra half cup “for the pot”. Add a teaspoonful of the ground Turkish coffee per cup in the water while the water is cold and stir. The amount of coffee may be varied to taste, but do not forget, there will be a thick layer of coffee grounds left at the bottom of your cup for properly made Turkish coffee. Don’t fill the pot too much. If you need to add sugar this is the time to do it.
2. Heat the pot as slowly as you can. The slower the heat the better it is. Make sure you watch it to prevent overflowing when the coffee boils.
3. When the water boils pour some (not all) of the coffee equally between the cups, filling each cup about a quarter to a third of the way. This will make sure that everybody gets a fair share of the foam forming on top of the pot, without which coffee loses much of its taste. Continue heating until coffee boils again (which will be very short now that it has already boiled). Then distribute the rest of the coffee between the cups.
Since there is no filtering of coffee at any time during this process, you should wait for a few minutes before drinking your delicious Turkish coffee while the coffee grounds settle at the bottom of the cup.