Although coffee was probably discovered in Ethiopia, it was in Turkey at around the thirteenth century that it became popular as a beverage. As with the serving of tea in China and Japan, the serving of coffee in Turkey was a complex, ritualized process. It was served in small cups without handles (known as fincan), which were placed in holders known as zarf (from the Arabic word ظرف ẓarf, meaning container, envelope) to protect the cup and also the fingers of the drinker from the hot liquid. Cups were typically made of porcelain, but also of glass and wood. However, because it was the holder that was more visible, it was typically more heavily ornamented.
The zarf was often made from metal, with silver, gold, copper, and brass being the most common materials used. Others were also made of woods such as coconut, ebony or other hardwoods, or of ivory, bone, horn, or tortoiseshell.
Wooden zarfs, very few of which remain, were favored because of the natural aroma of the wood from which they were fashioned. They were very fragile.
Tortoiseshell, horn and ivory zarfs required special skill to make. In the first two cases, sheets of the material in question were softened in hot water and then clamped in a mold to create the required shape. Ivory was carved in the same way as wood; however, its greater value meant that more care was needed to avoid mistakes.
The United States Navy also has an item, usually made in the on-base metal shops, that is bolted to bulkheads and consoles to hold coffee cups. The Navy zarf is not ornamented.
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- Mark Davis (February 7, 2009). "Obituaries: Deborah Sapot, 69, whiz at Scrabble". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "His mother, said Ian Sapot, didn't like losing. And she never did --- not in her family. Not with words such as: Zarf: A metal thing used to hold hot cups of coffee. It's worth 16 points."