Coffee culture around the world has such binding and ritual-like tendencies. 500 years in the making, it is no wonder that Turkish coffee is seen as an important part of everyday life in Turkey.
Much more than a wake up call, it symbolises hospitality, friendship and respect. In 2013, it was confirmed by UNECSO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity - a recognition confirming Turkish coffee as an important part of the world's cultural heritage.
From a heavy-based coffee pot with a handle called a cezve or briki, the dark and aromatic brew is gently poured into small coffee cups with a sugar cube or two at the ready for sweetening. The coffee itself is slightly bitter, quite strong in flavour, thick and dense in texture with a frothy top, not quite the barista-style latte on the way to work, but a ritual nonetheless.
Alongside a cup of coffee, you might want to sweeten this up with a slice of baklava. Get this recipe here.
The origins of Turkish coffee are debated and there are a number of stories about how coffee entered Turkey. Coffee has its origins in Ethiopia, then branching onto Yemen. From here it travelled to places such as Egypt and with the Ottomans taking control of Cairo in 1517, it is highly likely that this is where the Turks had some of their first real encounters with coffee.
With several stories around its origins, coffee appears to reach Turkey around the mid-1500s and it is around this period that the first coffeehouses also began. The consumption of coffee took off and coffeehouses began to boom. From hereon in, Turkish coffee knew no boundaries and its popularity spread east and west.
First things first, patience is key.
• You'll need a cezve and pre-ground coffee or you can mill your own using a kahve degirmeni, a coffee mill.
• Always start with cold water in the cezve and have a little bit extra on the side, to top the pot with.
• Add your ground coffee and don't overfill your pot, allow for the boiling process.
• You can also add sugar at this point depending on your tastes.
• It's all about a slow cook over your stove. From the heating to the serving - it shouldn't be rushed at all.
• Always keep an eye on the pot and make sure there is enough water in there, that the coffee doesn't sink to much, that it doesn't overflow and also that a nice frothy top is brimming.
Perfect Turkish coffee will have a thick layer of froth on top. It’ll be very creamy in the mouth. As you continue sipping, you’ll feel the creaminess at the back of your throat as the sediment will have sunk down to the bottom.
Drinking it, with a little something sweet
Turkish coffee is always served with a glass of water to refresh your tastebuds in anticipation for your first sip. Once the coffee has been poured you must allow time for the grounds to settle at the bottom before beginning to drink it, at least a couple of minutes will do. Lastly, don't rush it! Sit, sip and enjoy.
A bitesize piece of Turkish delight or baklava are perfect accompaniments to any Turkish coffee. As the coffee itself can be very strong and slightly bitter in taste, these small treats can take the edge off.
We chat over a cup and some Turkish delight with Somer Sivrioglu, owner and Head Chef of Sydney's Turkish restaurants Anason and Efendy about how he serves Turkish coffee and what it means to sit and sip.
“In Istanbul, we eat exactly like this...” [this] referring to Somer's current meze menu at his restaurant Anason. Here he offers a slice of his home Istanbul, through his menu and those tiny laden plates brimming with meze to share.
Finishing off the meal (you guessed it) is a piece of sweet pistachio baklava or a piece of Turkish delight along with a cup of coffee. Somer takes his traditional sweet very seriously and he no longer makes his own baklava. In fact, he air-freights it over from a place in Gaziantep that has been making it for over 30 years now (and yes - the baklava is amazing!). With his Turkish delight, Somer purchases it from a Turkish family-run business, right here in Sydney, which has been specialising in the craft of Turkish delight for three generations.
Kahve, meaning 'coffee', comes from the phrase kahvaltıdan sonra meaning 'after breakfast' or after your meal. Somer explains that "contrary to popular belief, Turkish coffee isn't consumed with breakfast but enjoyed mostly after the meal and during the afternoon". It is the last taste that will be left in your mouth so it is very important and you usually drink it alongside a touch of sweet. A slice of baklava or a small bite of Turkish delight, something to capture the essence of that black coffee. And, before you ask, no milk, Turkish coffee is traditionally enjoyed as is.
Brewing slowly over charcoal is how Turkish coffee would've been done 500 years ago and today coffee is prepared in the family home and for guests over a stovetop with a heavy-based pot, and sharing coffee is a time to sit down together and enjoy.
Somer also mentions how Turkish culture used coffee. It was seen as an important ritual when a man proposes to a woman. The man would come to the bride's house to ask for her hand in marriage and the bride-to-be would make coffee for her soon-to-be in-laws. "If the bride could make a good coffee for her in-laws-to-be, then she would make a good wife."
Somer explains how sometimes "the girl would make a traditional cup for everyone else, but she would serve a cup of slightly bitter coffee for her husband-to-be". This was to test the patience of the groom and how he would handle marriage. A groom should always be happy, even if it's bitter, as that would mean the couple would have a long and happy marriage. On the more cheeky side, sometimes salt would be added to the groom's cup as a joke to see how he would react.
Coffeehouses and hot and strong coffees are still as popular as ever and using your coffee grounds to tell your fortune... well that's a whole other story for another time.
Lead image by alfimimnill via Getty Images.
This traditional Turkish sesame ring is delicious warm with haydari (which means strained yoghurt) or simply served with butter and feta. I love to eat it as part of a breakfast spread. It's the ultimate street snack in Turkey, and a little part of Istanbul in your home. We cook them in a 300ºC wood-fired oven, so get your oven as hot as possible.