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9 Best Coffee Shops in Istanbul

Good specialty coffee in Istanbul is a rarity despite the abundance of third wave cafes. Here are the nine coffee shops that deliver a flavourful cup and shine through the crowd.

by Barış Yazıcı

I’ve been finding myself in coffee shops more than anywhere else. Not only because a coffee shop is the only viable space that acts as an open office and people-watching vantage point, but also because it’s where I take my grandma for a date. Naturally, I need to find the best cafes to please her fancy. Although she is not the most picky person, Istanbul can prove to be puzzling in providing good coffee.

 

Istanbul has yet to have a well established specialty coffee culture. Unlike London where coffee stores boast ever-changing diverse menus with beans from around the globe or Toronto where Australian and Japanese influence paved the way to specialty coffee shops in every neighbourhood, Istanbul’s coffee lovers can only choose from a handful of spaces to get a good brew. 

Coffee waves in Istanbul

Before the 2000s coffee habits in the city and Turkey at large had revolved solely around Turkish coffee (more on TC here) and instant coffee. After the coffee chain Gloria Jean’s’ first branch in 1999 and Starbucks entering the market in 2003, lattes and americanos found popularity among urban Istanbulites.

Even after the 2010s when first specialty coffee roasters started popping, the bulk of the coffee scene was made of boutique copies of Starbucks; soulless, shutterstock social spaces with no particular attention to roasting and brewing. To this day many coffee shops serve the illusion of ‘third wave’ culture and not the attention to quality and flavour. It’s not a big surprise that Turkey has been slow to foster a taste for gourmet coffee. Specialty coffee is expensive and can be intimidating to first time enjoyers with complex brewing techniques, endless bean knowledge and aroma profiles that oppose the dark and bitter Turkish coffee people are used to.

All that being said, there still exist passionate and meticulous roasters and coffee shops, some brewing coffee that could turn any coffee snob into a cartoon animal floating in trace of a pleasant smell. Here are some of my favourites:

Every time I’m in town, I take my grandma on a coffee date to Montag. “They make a damn good cup of coffee,” she says, reaching for their classic bean blend Luna, a regional one from Brazil with well-balanced chocolate notes that pairs perfectly with milky drinks like cappuccinos or lattes. Personally, I lean towards their more acidic, fruitier beans—such as Funky Berry and El Mirador Obata—for an americano where the milk doesn’t cloud the taste. 

Montag had failed to impress me with the wide variety of filter coffee options on the menu. Until I tried Purple Punch on my last visit. Sourced from Finca Monteblanco, a family-run farm that I first encountered at Dak Coffee Roasters’ experimental bean, “Coco Bongo,” known for its flashy notes of pineapple and coconut, Purple Punch isn’t quite as daring, but it’s certainly up there. The barista recommended trying it iced, which intensified the plum flavour even further.

What to drink: cappuccino with Luna beans, americano with Funky Berry.
When to go: before noon when it’s peaceful. 
Which branch: the balcony of the Kadıköy branch is perfect for watching passer-by in the fish market, or opt for the Moda store for a more hipster vibe.

Filter coffee at Williams Roastery
Filter coffee is the must try at Williams.

I’m usually indifferent to filter coffee as it never has the punch of an espresso. Filter brews often miss the mark and fail to deliver the flavour notes they promise. However, William’s brews are an exception, perhaps because William’s experiments with various brewing equipment for each bean and is picky in the combination they offer. The special brews at William’s epitomise what specialty coffee should be: sharp, intricate, and surprising. Like a Hemingway story in six words. And again like Hemingway’s stories, they have a sort of universal appeal that could turn around any coffee hater.

Their current rotation includes the Monteblanco Citric, not holding back on flavours of lavender, peach, jasmine, and sugar cane, sometimes leaving me questioning whether I’m sipping a cocktail or a filter coffee. They’ve recently expanded their offerings to include brunch, featuring breakfast spreads such as “Antakya’dan” made of locally sourced ingredients from Turkey’s Antakya region and “William’s toast,” inspired by the legendary cheese toastie at Kappacasein Dairy in London’s Borough Market.

What to get: filter coffee.
When to go: when you are up for a cheese toastie. 

Pastry showcase at Norm Coffee shop
Savoury and sweet pastries fill the counter at Norm in Cihangir.

Norm is the ideal final stop on my favourite Istanbul promenade. Starting from the nostalgic Tünel, passing Casa Botter, Santa Maria Draperis Church, the Beyoğlu Fish Market, Taksim Square, and down Sıraselviler Avenue. Take a left through the cobblestone side streets until you spot a pounce of cats. Norm stands as a breath of fresh air on a charming corner, its storefront overlooking the neighbourhood dog park. Surprisingly spacious despite its small size, the 10-square metre odd shop offers a delightful experience. Their ever-changing filter beans from local roasters are brewed to perfection.

What to get: their cappuccino tends to be slightly bitter, I prefer their latte served in a glass mug. 
When to go: when you need to chill after the Taksim hullabaloo.

Petra café interior, counter space
On top of delicately brewed coffee, Petra also offers a great food menu.

In-house, Petra opts for a South American blend, where chocolate and hazelnut notes reign the cup. While I tend to be generous with my eyerolls to coffee that smells of nutella, Petra overcomes the “basic”ness of this situation in their surprisingly delicate cappuccinos. Must have something to do with the roasting or the barista’s skills. On the food front, the French-inspired seasonal menu is well executed, no surprises but no misses either, quite fulfilling for the purposes of a brunch. Petra is the pioneer in bridging specialty coffee and rich food menus in the minds of Istanbul residents. Their filter beans have the richness and complexity to go alongside with rich dishes on the menu. The hand rolled pici pasta with halloumi, for example, could go well with a fruity and bright natural ethiopia. When to go: When you are high on hunger and low on caffeine. Which branch: Bebek branch for a date and for petting cats. Şişli when you have an hour to kill and carry a notebook to sketch in. The new Şişhane shop on the other hand has a surplus of “vibes” but a shortage of comfortable chairs, though the coffee is still spot-on. Caveat: Petra is absurdly expensive with 180 Turkish Liras (4.4 GBP, March 2024) for a regular cappuccino and even more for filters. 

Kava has a minimalistic and modern interior, though not like London’s rushed, takeaway coffee shops flooded with finance bros at 7am. With a glass frontier, it is calmingly bright and welcoming inside. Their espresso, featuring notes of dark chocolate and almond, is delicious— a blend reminiscent of the moderate but bold texture of wooden chairs. I enjoy their cappuccino as well, but its thick foam topping feels somewhat old-fashioned and fails to honour the full potential of that brilliant espresso.

 

What to get: espresso.

When to go: for a quick caffeine boost on the way to Moda Pier.

Acacia filter coffee at Coffee Department
Try the Acacia filter coffee at Coffee Department.

There is something about wooden exteriors that makes me feel at home, maybe because they remind me of Trabzon’s highland villages in Turkey’s north, my hometown. At Coffee Department, the squeaking door alerts the welcoming staff (and curious cats) to my arrival, their immediate attention gives me excitement for a cup of delicious coffee.


Alongside the menu, they hand note cards showcasing their bean rotation. You can read about taste notes and mechanics of the bean, the story of the producer, and why that bean was chosen by Coffee Department. There are usually 5 filter options from various farms around the world. Acacia, a washed Ethiopia smelling lemongrass and nectarine, was my introduction to filter coffee and is one of my favourites to this day.


What to get: Acacia filter coffee.
When to go:
when on a Balat promenade, it’s the perfect pit stop between the pier and Phanar Greek Orthodox College.

People chattering and puppies sniffing about, cocktail bar tunes in the background, energizing interior. Grōn is one of those places that prove coffee spots aren’t just about getting your caffeine fix; they’re social hangouts too. A place I’ve gone to time and time again. Grōn’s got all the specialty gear: V60, Chemex, Aeropress, and every espresso variation under the sun, even the black eye—a filter coffee with two shots of espresso chucked in. But, they’re more about pushing the brewing techniques rather than their bean selection. The slack on the sourcing front shows in the taste. Nevertheless, expect a well-prepared, medium bodied, enjoyable latte. Along with it I usually order the warm white chocolate chunk brownie, so soft it’s like biting into a soufflé.

 

What to get: latte and white choc brownie.

When to go: when it’s time to catch up with mates.

Burgazada is one of the four big Princes’ Islands in Istanbul. Some might say it is best to visit in spring, but as long as it is not raining, it is worth a visit every time of the year. After a visit to Ergün Pastanesi for a seasonal millefeuille pastry and a stroll around the island, I cap off my day at Four Letter Word before the ferry takes me back to Istanbul. 

Unlike the island’s many seaside restaurants, Four Letter Word is nestled away on a quiet back street opposite an unassuming old mansion. Seating is outdoors only, but staying inside when in Burgazada would be a mistake anyways.

What to get: it’s a tie between their filter and cappuccino.
When to go: on a sunny day.

Cappuccino at Kronotrop coffee shop in Karaköy
A frothy cappucino at Kronotrop's Karaköy branch.

 

It isn’t easy to maintain a high quality with almost 20 shops, but Kronotrop manages it pretty well, standing as one of Istanbul’s specialty coffee pioneers. Their Karaköy spot has a chic rustic design and a spacious interiors, and the second floor is ideal for focused laptop work. I go for their cappuccino, which has been consistently good in their various locations.

 

What to get: cappuccino.

When to go: when in Karaköy.

Inside of coffee shop Probador Colectivca
A bonus recommendation from the editor.

I’m by no means a coffee enthusiast, as only my heart rate goes faster than my regret when downing an espresso. But amidst that decaf life, I’ve grown to appreciate the few good coffees I had and would feel shame if I didn’t add Probador Colectiva to this list as my humble opinion. 

Probador Colectiva is something between a coffee tasting room and a spaceship. It’s a coffee temple whose altar only accepts a purist’s coffee beans (it used to not have milk on the premises). Definitely worth a try for those who seek taste perfection. Berkok Yüksel

Barış Yazıcı is a statistician with food, coffee and Istanbul on his mind. Find more recommendations by Barış here and here.

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