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A Brief History of Turkish Coffee

Like many of you, I really enjoy a great espresso but I also appreciate the finer things in life. More finely ground that is. If you’re willing to take a step out of your normal range and try a finer beverage, a good place to start is with Turkish coffee. 

Turkish coffee was first introduced into Turkey around 1540 or so. History tells us that it was introduced by the Turkish Governor of Yemen - Ozdemir Pasha. He discovered a new beverage in his region, you get three guesses for what it might have been (hint, it was coffee). Wisely, he made sure to bring it to the attention of the Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent.

The Sultan’s staff decided to try a new method for preparing the drink. They used mortars to finely ground the coffee and then brewed it using a special pot called an Ibrik. It was immediately a big hit in the palace and actually became an integral part of Turkish history and culture. The mansions of the elite were the first to get to try this great new beverage. Later it was consumed by the masses and eventually the whole Ottoman Empire.

It was soon being prepared by coffee professionals known as “Kahveci Usta”. They were employed by many palaces as well as by high ranking officials and wealthy citizens. Perhaps a prelude to modern day baristas. Many of these professionals also went on to open their own coffee houses serving Turkish coffee and other fine beverages. 

In 1656 the Ottoman Grand Vizier Koprulu issued laws to shut down the coffee houses. This act came as a shock to the people of Turkey who frequented them. Punishment for breaking the law was extreme and ranged from beating to drowning. It was believed that they served as meeting places for discussing politics and even ways to take down the Sultan. Those in power viewed the coffee houses as a threat and tried to preemptively snuff out the flames of rebellion. 

Changing gears to a less intense topic, there are even marriage traditions that have evolved with Turkish coffee. A potential new bride will make coffee for the mother-in-law as a test of her worthiness, with failure risking shame and being gossiped about in public. Also the bride will add salt to the normally sweet drink as as a measure of how interested she is. A lot of salt means your chances don’t look good whereas very little salt means that things are shaping up nicely. If a man can pound down a whole cup of salty coffee, he proves his manliness and also is saying he is ready to marry her.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little coffee/history lesson. Next time we will examine methods for preparing Turkish coffee, even if you don’t have an ibrik.

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