Turkish coffee is a special beverage with a lot of cultural significance. Here we will discuss the significance of Turkish coffee, the culture around it, how it is prepared, and most importantly what it tastes like.
Turkish coffee was originally brought to Turkey by Syrian traders when Turkey was still a part of the Ottoman Empire. It comes from coffee beans like any other coffee, what makes it special is how it’s prepared and what type of ingredients are used.
How is Turkish Coffee Prepared?
To start, the coffee beans are ground into a fine powder. By fine powder, I mean they are ground even more finely than espresso. Those grounds are added to a copper pot called a cezve along with water. Depending on personal preference, if you want sugar it would be added now. Cardamom is a popular aromatic spice that is also often added to Turkish coffee, it would be added directly to the pot at this point as well.
The coffee is heated on a stovetop or over another form of an open flame. As it is heated it will begin to boil and foam. When the foam starts to reach the top of the cezve it is removed from heat until the foam dissolves back into the pot. This heating process is performed a total of three times.
After the coffee has been boiled and cooled three times, the cezve is left to sit for a minute so the coffee grounds will settle at the bottom of the pot. The coffee and foam are then poured into thin, ceramic cups.
Turkish Coffee is very bold, especially when no sugar or other spices are added. Because the coffee grounds are boiled in the water with no filter, and some of those grounds inevitably end up in your cup, there is an added bitterness to it. Some people have also described Turkish coffee as having a slightly salty taste to it.
If brewed correctly, Turkish coffee should have a creamy consistency and plenty of foam on top. Both the texture and foam are key factors for this coffee. If Turkish coffee is watery instead of creamy, or the foam is not poured with the coffee, the flavor will be diluted.
The key contributor to the flavor of Turkish coffee is the coffee beans themselves. Ideally, Arabica coffee beans from Africa are used. Because of the soil, the coffee beans tend to be less acidic. How well the beans are ground is also key to brewing the perfect cup.
Turkish coffee has been an important part of Turkish culture since it was first introduced in the 1500s. It played a part in royal courts, betrothal customs, and politics. Some of these traditions are even still alive and acknowledged today.
Sultans would have elaborate ceremonies surrounding Turkish coffee. There were sometimes entire teams dedicated to making the perfect cup of coffee. Some of these teams were as big as 40 people.
There were some customs surrounding marriage that involved Turkish coffee as well. Women would brew a cup of coffee for prospective husbands, and the quality of the coffee would play a part in the man’s decision. There would be very in-depth training for women on how to make the proper cup.
Some marriage traditions using Turkish coffee are still followed today. To keep the tradition alive, some women will serve potential husbands a cup as an example of their housekeeping skills. Rumor has it that some will intentionally make a bad cup by adding salt during the brewing process to avoid unwanted betrothals!
Turkish coffee houses were also popular meeting places for people. They were used for socializing as well as the discussing of politics. Fearing an uprising, some Sultans even attempted to ban Turkish coffee houses. The blowback was so severe they ended up retracting the ban.
One final tradition that involves Turkish coffee is fortune telling or tasseography. Because the coffee grounds are brewed directly in the water and are not filtered out, there are inevitably coffee grounds left at the bottom of your cup when you finish it.
When you reach the bottom of your cup and are left with the muddy sediment left over from the coffee grounds, you are supposed to swirl your cup gently and flip it upside down onto your saucer. After the cup cools, you lift it and look at the grounds.
Fortunes are told by looking for shapes and symbols in the grounds left in the cup and on the saucer. There are people who do this professionally, but it is not impossible for average people to learn. Having fortunes read in the coffee grounds left by Turkish coffee is still extremely popular in Turkey.
As you can see, Turkish coffee is not a mundane cup of coffee that we see on a daily basis. It is steeped in tradition and truly unique, both in its delightful flavor and the methodical way it needs to be prepared.
The rich culture that sprung from Turkish coffee is still alive and well today. There are several traditions that have survived even the fall of the Ottoman Empire. It still plays a part in marital traditions, Turkish coffee houses, and still extremely popular meeting places, and people still practice fortune telling from the coffee grounds.
Most importantly, there is no other way to enjoy a cup of coffee like it. It is a universal sign of welcome and friendship. I am inclined to agree, few things say friendship like sharing a cezva of fresh Turkish coffee!