If you’re looking for a type of coffee with not only an incredible taste and smell but also a long history and great cultural importance, Turkish coffee is the one you’re after.
Whether it’s the famous relaxing post-breakfast ritual, traditional wedding proposal or incredible get-togethers with friends and family full of conversations, fun and fortune telling Turkish coffee is one of the most important parts of Turkish culture.
But Turkish coffee is not only a prominent part of Turkish culture but it’s also loved and respected by millions of coffee lovers all around the world.
How can anyone not love such a nice tasting beverage as Turkish coffee, anyways?
I believe that when it comes to any type of coffee, it’s not enough to just make a cup of it haphazardly and drink it without considering the subtleties of it. And it’s not without any reason.
It’s because coffee is not just a beverage but it’s a culture in itself. Preparation methods, its long and rich history and countless local variations… There’s a ton of things to learn about coffee to truly appreciate its flavour and all the feelings associated with it.
This is why it matters so much to learn about the history of one of the world’s oldest and most popular types of coffee out there: Turkish coffee.
So, here’s everything you need to know about the fascinating and unique history of Turkish coffee.
A Lovely and Unique Brew
Turkish coffee is the type of coffee that’s most popular in Turkey, Middle East, Balkans and many other places such as Romania, Czech Republic and Lithuania. It’s also called Armenian coffee or Greek coffee due to the anti-Turkish sentiment in those countries.
Turkish coffee is prepared by mixing extra finely ground coffee beans with water and optional sweeteners and additives, then heating them up to a certain point in a tool called Turkish coffee pot (“cezve” or “ibrik” in Turkish).
Its preparation takes about 2-3 minutes ideally. Because of its simple preparation method and short brew time Turkish coffee is a unique type of coffee that’s easy for anyone to make.
Not only that it’s super easy to brew Turkish coffee, but it’s also quite delicious and smells like heaven. When you couple it with the fact that it has countless health benefits, Turkish coffee becomes the perfect drink for anyone to drink anytime.
Unlike many other types coffee, Turkish coffee is served without any kind of filtering. Because of it, every cup of Turkish coffee will have sediment left underneath after drinking.
The sediment in Turkish coffee is used mainly for a pastime activity called fortune telling and it’s one of the reasons why Turkish coffee is so unique. No other coffee can give such a great excuse to spend quality time with friends and family while exploring your imagination.
Beginning of a Legendary Drink
Today, most of world’s coffee is produced by mainly South American and Southeast Asian countries but this legendary beverage that’s a big part of a the world’s economy was first found in Ethiopia.
Nowadays many people can’t even get out of the bed without the aid of this incredibly good tasting beverage. As Thomas Jefferson said it “Coffee is the favourite drink of the civilized world”. If we can have a cup of this stimulating drink every morning, we owe it to this country in the horn of Africa.
According to the legend, an Ethiopian goat herder who lived during the 9th century saw that his goats were way too excited after eating the fruits of the coffee plant.
After seeing this, the goat herder brough the fruits to an Islamic monk for inspection. The monk didn’t approve of the use of the fruits and threw them into the fire. As the coffee “fruits” got exposed to the heat, they started giving off an inviting smell.
Then the world’s first coffee beans were ground up and mixed with hot water. The very first cup of coffee was prepared in this simple way.
Like many legends, the credibility of this story is doubtful but nonetheless it’s an interesting and widely believed legend.
When we move on from legends and look at what we know for sure, we see that first known cultivation and use of coffee in the world happened in Arabian Peninsula during the 15th century.
Sufis (Islamic mystics) used coffee to stay energized during their religious rituals which included lots of repetitive words and movements that lasted for hours on end.
The preparation of this coffee required a type of coffee pot called “dallah” that’s also used by Bedouins of North Africa. It was made by boiling and usually served unsweetened with the addition of some snacks such as dates, dried fruit and nuts on the side.
According to Islam, drinking alcohol is forbidden and because of this coffee become a great option for Muslims who wanted some variety in their drink options at that time.
With the advent of coffeehouses around that time, coffee became the social lubricant that we know of today.
And during the 16th century, coffee spread out from the Arabian Peninsula and found its way into neighboring places such as Persia, Egypt and Ottoman Empire.
During the 16th century Ottoman Empire was the superpower in the region and it was at its peak controlling a vast territory including Anatolia and Balkans as well as the most of North Africa and Arabian Peninsula.
During the reign of Selim I, Yemeni governor of Ottoman Empire was a great coffee lover and in early 16th century he brought this incredible beverage to the heart of the Ottoman Empire; Istanbul.
But coffee was not always freely consumed at that time. Religious authorities in Mecca banned the consumption of coffee in 1511 on the grounds that its stimulating effects were sinful.
In 1524, during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent this ban was lifted and all peoples across Ottoman Empire started freely enjoying coffee again.
When coffee reached Ottoman Empire, the Arabic coffee pots called dallah were replaced by Turkish coffee pots and a new and simpler coffee brewing method was born.
The preparation and serving of coffee in the Ottoman palace required an elaborate ritual and it was seen as such an important process that there was a person called “the master of coffee” whose sole responsibility was to make coffee for the Sultan.
Coffee was served using precious serveware decorated with diamonds, rubies and pearls in the Ottoman palace.
Turkish delight wasn’t invented until the 18th century. So, guests were given sweets such as jams and various traditional desserts, sherbets made from liquorice, tamarind and poppy as well as rose water and a type of hookah called narghile that’s still smoked when drinking Turkish coffee.
Coffeehouses were the center of the social life in Ottoman Empire and over time they became very widespread and popular.
Coffee also had a relationship building role in individual’s lives, as seen in the short story below.
A janissary enters a coffeeshop and tells the shopkeeper: “Hello, my friend! A cup of coffee for everyone on me, except for this infidel!” pointing at a Greek shipmaster.
Then shopkeeper serves coffee to everyone in the coffeeshop. After that he also makes two more cups of coffee and approaches the shipmaster: “Captain, let us drink these together.”
And the janissary yells: “Hey, didn’t I tell you not to make coffee for that infidel!”
Shopkeeper replies: “This coffee is not on you, agha. It’s on the house!”
Years pass and the shopkeeper is conscripted into the army to help put down a rebellion. Eventually, he gets caught by the enemy and he was about to be sold into slavery.
Luckily, the Greek shipmaster sees him and buys him from the slavers. Not recognizing the shipmaster, the shopkeeper starts thinking to himself: “Oh god, since he bought me for next to nothing, I can’t imagine what he’ll do to me!”
And the shipmaster tells him: “It seems that you don’t recognize me but I know who you are. You are the shopkeeper that offered me coffee when that janissery insulted me.”
Then, they hug and go their seperate ways.
Coffee Spreads into Europe
The arrival of coffee into Ottoman Empire was one of the most important events that have directly and radically influenced the European culture and cuisine that’s respected all over the world.
During that time Republic of Venice was a city state that’s well known by its central role in Mediterranean trade.
By the efforts of Venetian merchants, coffee was brought to Italy in the year 1600. And through Italy coffee has spread all over Europe.
So the huge coffee culture of the Western world wouldn’t have existed without Turkish coffee and the incredible work of Venetian merchants.
Ottoman Coffehouse Culture
Turkish coffee can always be drunk on your own. But to enjoy it fully, it requires good company. And is there any way to get good company than meeting in a coffeehouse and enjoying your properly made coffee there?
The coffeehouse culture is something that we’re accustomed to today. Many people meet their friends in coffeeshops and even meet new people there.
But before coffee there was no such culture and without it we would’ve lost a good portion of our current social lives.
In a coffeehouse it didn’t matter whether you were rich or poor, anyone could enjoy a good cup of Turkish coffee. Coffeehouses brought people from all walks of life together.
As coffee found its way into Ottoman Empire, it also brought along this wonderful culture. It didn’t take long for coffeehouses to become the focal point of the social scene in Ottoman Empire.
The first coffeehouse in Istanbul was opened in 1555 by two merchants from Damascus.
Ottoman people not only liked going to coffeehouses because of coffee, narghile and snacks but coffeehouses were a place where people got together for education, entertainment, social activity and at some point political activity.
Coffeehouse attendees where primarily male and they were from differing socio-economic backgrounds. Illiterate men could come and listen to conversations held by educated men, getting informed on current affairs and many academic subjects.
Over time these coffeehouses turned into a place where political plots were discussed. Because of this, coffeehouses were placed under surveillance. Ottoman government used coffeehouses to collect people’s opinion on varying topics.
Coffeehouses stood the test of time and they are still popular among men in modern day Turkey.
Later Ottoman Period
Although during and after the 19th century Ottoman Empire started to decline because of not being able to keep up with emerging developments in technology and free thought, Turkish coffee managed to keep its place in the center of Ottoman social life and cuisine.
People didn’t have much in those days but they still didn’t want to give up on this delicious beverage.
The Ottoman Emperor at that time Abdul Hamid II loved Turkish coffee so much that he would have two cups of it at once, drinking up to ten cups a day. He only accepted coffee from Yemen and would enjoy it with cigarettes.
And in 1871 a small shop called “Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi” was opened in Tahtakale, Istanbul. This coffeeshop was the first place to roast, grind and package Turkish coffee and make it available for more convenient consumption.
Before this, people used to buy whole coffee grounds and process it themselves. This development made Turkish coffee even more popular than ever.
First Days of the Republic
After the World War I, Ottoman Empire fell and got seperated into several nation states. One of those states that emerged was Republic of Turkey.
Like the many leaders in the region that came before him, The Founding Father of this great nation, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was an avid drinker of Turkish coffee.
He loved it so much that it’s rumored that he would ask his assistant; “Where is my coffee, my child?” in the middle of the night after having his third cup of Turkish coffee.
Around that time, many reforms were being made and one of those reforms included the introduction of tea into Turkish culture.
Because how popular tea is in Turkey nowadays, many people have a hard time realizing that Turkish tea is a much more recent phenomenon.
But it was only around 1924 that Turkey started cultivating tea and Turkish coffee found itself a respectable rival.
Although nowadays tea is a somewhat more popular option in Turkey due to its convenience, Turkish coffee is still enjoyed by many and it’s regarded as higher class.
Turkish coffee is an important part of Turkish culture, finding its place in social gatherings, post-breakfast relaxing time and even the traditional event where the bride’s and groom’s parents meet before the marriage.
Turkish coffee has such an importance in Turkish culture that even the word for breakfast in Turkish (“kahvaltı”) means the meal before coffee.
A Bright Future Ahead
Nowadays, Turkish coffee is known worldwide and is popular in several countries. It represents a big chunk of Turkish culture and is listed by UNESCO on Intangible Cultural Heritage of Turkey.
Although Turkish coffee is recognized worldwide I still don’t think that it has the popularity that it deserves.
Many people still make mistakes when preparing and serving Turkish coffee and unfortunately most people still don’t know much about the most fun part of the Turkish coffee experience; fortune telling or Turkish coffee cup reading.
This is exactly why I’ve started this blog. I believe Turkish coffee can be more popular and well-liked if people are given a chance to know more about it.
Learning about coffee is crucial to appreciating it fully. Because Turkish coffee is one of the oldest and most popular types of coffee out there, history of Turkish coffee is an important subject that should be known by all coffee lovers.
The journey of Turkish coffee starts in Ethiopia and Arabian Peninsula acts as a bridge in bringing coffee into Ottoman Empire. Here, coffee is very well-liked and even spreads into Europe.
Nowadays Turkish coffee is an important part of Turkish culture and millions of people enjoy it everyday.
Not only that but with its incredible flavor and rich history Turkish coffee also has a very bright future that I hope to play a part in bringing into existence!
If you’ve found this post helpful or interesting, please don’t forget to share it on the social media. Help spread the enjoyment that Turkish coffee brings! 😉