Turkey’s an interesting place. If you asked the average Joe about the country he might say it’s known for kebabs, furniture and a tenuous hold on democracy. Oh, and these hilariously infuriating ice cream sellers.
The centrepoint of the Ottoman empire and the Byzantine before that, Turkey has a rich culture and a turbulent history. A small but notable part of its culture is its coffee.
Turkey was making coffee a long time ago. The plant was originally discovered in Ethiopia in the 11th century before slowly making its way across the globe. It found its way to Yemen a few centuries later and then to nearby Istanbul where a distinct coffee culture emerged. One which is still unique across all modern methods of making coffee.
So we’re talking about a custom that has been going several hundred years! That’s an ancient tradition compared to the 21st century Aeropress.
What is Turkish coffee?
Turkish coffee is a way of making coffee. It’s important to note that it’s not a brand or type of coffee bean. The country is a little too northern to be suitable for growing coffee so you can’t actually get any from there.
The method of making Turkish coffee will seem strange to those used to hyper modern creations like a Clever Dripper or an Aeropress. There is no filter and no straining of the coffee. The coffee grounds go into the cup along with the coffee! This results in a unique and polarizing taste.
First we have our Turkish coffee grinder. I’ll talk a little later why you need a special grinder that can handle this. Here’s a picture of a really nice ornate-looking one.
Next is our cezfe This is the little pot – usually made from copper – where we brew our coffee. You add the coffee and water then place your cezve over a flame.
This is also sometimes called an ibrik. This is a slight mistranslation which has caught on, leading to Ibrik World Championships which may as well be called the Turkish Coffee World Championships. Here, take a look.
Lastly, you’re going to need a flame, too. Here’s a traditional Turkish device.
You can use any coffee. The most popular coffee beans in Turkey are Brazilian. I’m not super experienced and I don’t have my own setup, but if I was going to experiment I’d look at combining the method with some sweet and fruity African single origins and seeing if I could make that work.
How to make Turkish coffee
1. Grind your coffee – super fine.
2. Add the coffee and room temperature water to your cezve.
3. Place your cezve on the flame (medium-high heat).
4. Bring it to a simmer then turn heat down to low..
5. Let the coffee foam up.
6. Pour the coffee slowly into your cup – grounds and all.
7. Serve in an ornate cup with soda water and lokum.
You can follow…CAPTION: well annotated with a bit of history thrown in
The general idea is to let the coffee and water foam up in the cezfe. You want to let it rise up and foam 2-4 times before it’s finished. The art of making good Turkish coffee in in creating the foam. A good cup contains 50% foam or even more! Try doing it yourself and you’ll realize what a skill this is!
Important: Don’t let the coffee boil. It should be brought to a mild simmer and nothing more. If you go into full boiling then your coffee is probably dead. The ideal temperature is about 160F (or 71C) which is way below boiling point at 212F (or 100C).
The water served with the coffee is not optional. The Turkish use to it clean their palate before they enjoy their coffee. You can use plain cold water but I would recommend soda water. Unless you’re one of those people that hate it.
Also, I mentioned lokum above. This is a tasty candy that is sold under the name ‘Turkish Delight’ abroad. I really like it and it’s a great accompaniment with Turkish coffee. Get some if you can.
The most remarkable feature of Turkish coffee – in my opinion – is the grind. The grind needed to make espresso is usually the finest most people know – even finer than espresso.
It’s so fine that many grinders do not have a setting that can produce a grind fine enough. If you’d like to try making it yourself you’ll need to check whether yours can achieve this grind.
The traditional method is to use a Turkish hand grinder. These are often beautifully ornate little things that are great to look at but awful to use. Grinding enough coffee at that fine a grind takes a long, long time.
Do Turkish people actually drink it?
The short answer: yes.
It’s 500 years old, lots of newer and better methods exist and are popular in Turkey as they are anywhere else. Walk aruond the streets of Istanbul and you’ll see cool coffee houses everywhere. The third wave of coffee did not escape the place where East meets West.
Despite this, Turkish coffee is still in full evidence. Most of the newer and hipper establishments will serve Turkish coffee. And many restaurants, bars and hotels will offer Turkish coffee as a matter of habit.
And this was in the modern capital city. If I had trekked to deepest Anatolia I would’ve seen something quite different, I imagine.
Turkish coffee uses an immersion method with no filter. This means all the rich coffee oils and micro-particles as well as the finer coffee grounds will make it into your cup. This produces a coffee that is naturally full bodied and silty and will highlight the heavier, earthy flavors.
You will see many recommendations to drink darker coffees using the Turkish method – it will magnify the earthy and herbal notes of Asian coffee beans and the burnt taste of dark roasts. I would personally be interested in pairing it with a fruity and juicy African single origin. I think the contrast could turn out quite pleasing.
The coffee will be silty and the last dregs nigh on undrinkable. For me, anyway. You can gulp those grounds straight down if you like. I’ve come across a nutcase or two in my time who would treasure the last sediment-filled sip of their French Press coffee.
Firstly, let me qualify my thoughts by saying I’m not an expert. I have been to Turkey but only for a few days. I tried Turkish coffee a few times in a few places. And I have played around with a few devices away from the country. But again, I am no expert.
I’m not the biggest fan of Turkish coffee. It has always tasted overly bitter for me. I’m also not a fan of the silty texture either, if you’ve tried finished the last gulp of a French Press you’ll know what I’m talking about. As such, I’ve never invested in my own equipment.
I do like the process, it’s much more of an art form that chucking your coffee into a french press. A part of me wants to spend the time to master it. One day, perhaps. One for the bucket list, if you like.
(Or the cezve list…)
How can I make some myself?
Your bare minimum equipment is a cezve and a flame. You will also need a grinder capable of producing coffee grounds fine enough for this method. Many of the more popular grinders cannot grind that fine. Check the one you have first.