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Everything You Should Know about Turkish Coffee

Turkey’s favourite coffee is more than what’s in the cup.

A thick, foamy Turkish coffee at Mandabatmaz.

What is Turkish coffee?: Turkish coffee is not a type of coffee but rather a brewing technique. Roasted coffee beans are ground finely, even finer than espresso. Some grounding machines (such as the one in American Whole Foods shops) have this extra fine feature. The process yields almost a powdery, confection sugar-textured coffee ground. Most brands and shops in Turkey tend to use dark-roasted Arabica beans and the origin and life cycle of the beans are not of importance to the public. Few people would know the word Arabica, or care about it.

The key aspect of the coffee though is in its preparation. Mini pots called cezve are put on low heat with room temperature water and a spoonful of ground coffee is dumped in it. Hereafter techniques vary to make the perfect coffee. Some don’t touch it until it bubbles, some stir the coffee in the beginning, some continue to stir it. But the idea is to take it off when a layer of foam is achieved and before the boiling coffee overflows.

Perfection comes with thick foam: A good Turkish coffee is thick, has an almost-blackish dark brown colour and a layer of light brown foam (airier and lighter than an espresso crema) on top covering the full surface. The thicker the foam the more masterful the coffeemaker. It’s served immediately in espresso sized coffee cups.

A drink for every occasion

Turkish coffee is one for all occasions. Usual moments in the day that can be filled with Turkish coffee are the following:

  • after breakfast to officially start the day
  • at work to take a break
  • after lunch to cut the heaviness and wake one up
  • when someone visits you at home or in the office
  • together with a ciggie
  • to complement something sweet, like an afternoon snack
  • around gossip
  • to tell one’s fortune
  • after a long dinner
  • at a çay bahçesi with a great view
  • to calm the stomach
  • when you find time to do nothing, to complement the nothingness
Actually it has such a prominent place within the daily diet that the word for breakfast in Turkish, kahvaltı, is a portmanteau of kahve and altı meaning “before coffee”. 
Old timey meyhanes tend to have a digestive treat at the end of a dinner, lemoned quince slices dipped in ground Turkish coffee, a weirdly addictive sour nibble that supposedly helps with digestion and wakes one up after drinking the whole night.
alt metin
My grandma telling my fortune, her predictions about my upcoming move to another flat were scarily accurate.

The coffee market 

Today, the major brand of Turkish coffee in the market is Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi. Originating in a shop near the Grand Bazaar and founded in 1871, KME leads the industry with 50% of the market in packaged Turkish coffee (2016 figures). 

Turkish coffee, while always the most popular coffee in Turkey, was cast relatively uncool with the advent of Starbucks and similar Western chains in the late 2000s. But before the third wave coffee shops took over the street, the invention of a fully automatic Turkish coffee machine made the consumption of TC rise in double digits for more than a few years after 2010. Consistent body and foam were the key aspects of taking the human error factor away from the process. 

Every restaurant and café other than the touristy ones with hot sand is now using coffee machines. Even my TC-aficionado grandma.

Traditions: fortunetelling and pranks

Naturally, Turkish coffee finds itself deep within societal traditions. The first and foremost of these is fortunetelling. After drinking the coffee the cup is covered with the lid and turned over. Once cold, the coffee stains in the cup and the plate are “read” to see the future as well as the inner state of the person.

Another interesting tradition occurs when a soon-to-be groom’s family visits the bride’s family to “ask” for the family’s permission on the marriage.

This tradition called “kız isteme” (asking for the girl) is still popular in Turkey. The bride candidate prepares Turkish coffee for everyone in an attempt to show off her skills, but puts excessive amount of salt in the groom’s cup. If the groom can hide his surprise and dislike, he proves his love for his partner to be.