European countries developed their coffee brewing methods after deriving coffee drinking habit from the Turks; however, the method of brewing Turkish coffee has remained almost unchanged. In many respects, Turkish coffee has to be regarded different from the rest of coffees and it would be unfair to say that merely because of its preparation or brewing. Coffee beans arrived in the Ottoman lands almost five centuries ago and became popular quickly, shaping a history with spaces and structures named after it. A distinctive way of presentation and drinking habit developed with dedicated utensils specifically crafted for brewing and serving. Moreover, coffee gained an important and unique role in the social relations and culture of Turkey as indicated by the aphorism “when a cup of coffee is offered its memory would be cherished for forty years”. That rich cultural background prompted UNESCO to inscribe the Turkish Coffee Culture and Tradition in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.
An Inseparable Aspect of Turkish Tradition
It would not be an exaggeration to assert that coffee is one of the prominent elements of social life and culture in Turkey, in fact, it can be said that it has created its own culture. The place of coffee in the social life is best indicated by its multitude of roles: It forms one of the preliminary rituals preceding the nuptial ceremony; it is almost always offered to guests; it’s the typical part of any friendly conversation; it is believed by many that shapes of coffee grounds left in the cup provides insights into the future and these often interpreted either for fun or as fortune telling. The place of coffee in the culture of Turkey could also be decoded from the terms created after coffee in Turkish language: kahverengi (coffee-coloured) means brown and kahvaltı (having something before drinking the first coffee of the day) means breakfast.
Turkish coffee form one of the stages of the ritual of asking for a girl’s hand in marriage. The coffee is brewed and served by the bride-to-be to the suitor and his elders. The taste and quality of the coffee, and the manner it is served would be closely watched as indications of the skilfulness of the bride-to-be.
The grounds of Turkish coffee left in the cup have created the unique tradition of coffee fortune telling. The patterns created by the coffee remains in the cup are interpreted to have a glimps into the future of the person who drank it.
The coffee culture has given rise to development of many handicrafts, and decorated coffee-cups, coffee-pots, or coffee-trays are among the most sought after souvenirs from Turkey.
Social Hubs of Ottoman Era: Coffee-Houses
Following the arrival of coffee in Istanbul at the beginning of the 16th century, with a newly developed technique to brew it, coffee-houses (kahvehane) quickly spread all around the Empire. Those coffee-houses turned into gathering spaces and they gradually became an important part of the Ottoman social life where books were read aloud, or poetry recited to the regulars followed by literary conversations as well as pastimes such as chess and backgammon were played. Although they have since lost their Ottoman era identity and came to serve mostly tea instead of coffee at present, the neighbourhood coffee-house is still a part of the heritage providing a space for conversation and pastimes.
Turkish Delight and Water: Companions of Turkish Coffee
Traditionally Turkish coffee is served with a glass of water and a piece of Turkish delight. The water is believed to be taken before the coffee, in order to cleanse and prepare the palate to fully appreciate the richness of the aromas in the coffee. The tradition of serving Turkish Delight with a cup of Turkish coffee also developed during the Ottoman era, and has since become part of the culture of Turkey.
Where to Drink?
You may taste Turkish coffee almost anywhere ranging from the guest rooms of your Turkish friends welcoming you in their homes to any hotel you stay, from the village coffee-houses to luxurious restaurants. The enjoyment of drinking a cup of traditionally brewed and served Turkish coffee at any place along the coast of Bosporus overlooking the sights of Istanbul cannot be beaten. You may have enjoyed various types of coffees in many different places from around the world, however the experience described above would be unforgettable and unique.