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Istanbul not Constantinople: The Evolution of Turkish Coffee

Posted: 04/20/08
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Chances are, if you’ve traveled outside of the United States and ordered a cup of coffee, you may have ended up with something you weren’t familiar with. That’s because much of the world enjoys something called Turkish coffee – a strong, rather bitter drink, traditionally served black, but sometimes sweetened with small amounts of sugar.
turkish coffee

But Turkish coffee, while enjoyed in many Middle Eastern, North African and Eastern European countries, has yet to find its way to the American marketplace. Could it be its harsh taste? Possibly, because Constantinople took hold of the bitter drink only a few hundred years ago – before that, goats were the largest consumers.

Properly prepared Turkish coffee is hairy no matter how you cut it – but that’s because of the way it’s prepared. You see, Turkish coffee is brewed in a small pot called a cezve. Because the pot is so tiny, only a few cups can be brewed at a time. This, combined with the fact that for every cup of water, a teaspoon of coffee grounds are added, make it an extremely intense drink.

“Turkish coffee is known for its bold, rich taste,” according to Saad Fayed, an authority on Middle Eastern cuisine and culture. “It has a hint a cardamom and is carefully prepared, sitting a minute or two before it’s served – allowing the coffee to fall to the bottom of the cup.” The amount of coffee can of course be increased or decreased according to taste. Either way, a properly prepared coffee should always leave a thick residue at the bottom of the cup.

With the introduction of Turkish coffee came the introduction of many rituals and customs unknown to the Turks at that time. Many of these rituals, though not prevalent today, were very influential in making the Ottoman Empire what it was. In fact, serving Turkish coffee became such an elaborate ceremony in Constantinople it became the defining ability in betrothal. Turkish women received extensive training on the proper techniques of preparing coffee – so much training that a woman was often judged on her coffee making skills alone.

turkish delightTurkish coffee was the center of the political and social scene as well. Men socialized at newly established coffeehouses to discuss politics, while women socialized over sweets – specifically Turkish delight, a jelly-like confectionary, usually made with pistachios or walnuts. So if you ever have the opportunity to enjoy Turkish coffee or the sweets that go with it, don’t be afraid – join in and remember – coffee should be black as hell, strong as death and sweet as love, according to the Turkish proverb. Şerefe!