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Turkish coffee

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Turkish coffee
A cup of Turkish coffee, served from a copper cezve
Country of origin Disputed
ColorDark brown

Turkish coffee is a style of coffee prepared in a cezve using very finely ground coffee beans without filtering.[1][2]


Turkish coffee is very finely ground coffee brewed by boiling. Any coffee bean may be used; arabica varieties are considered best, but robusta or a blend is also used.[3] The coffee grounds are left in the coffee when served.[4][5] The coffee may be ground at home in a manual grinder made for the very fine grind, ground to order by coffee merchants in most parts of the world, or bought ready-ground from many shops.

Late Ottoman era Kahve fincanı

Coffee and water, usually with added sugar, is brought to the boil in a special pot called cezve in Turkey, and often called ibrik elsewhere. As soon as the mixture begins to froth, and before it boils over, it is taken off the heat; it may be briefly reheated twice more to increase the desired froth. Sometimes about one-third of the coffee is distributed to individual cups; the remaining amount is returned to the fire and distributed to the cups as soon as it comes to the boil.[6][5] The coffee is traditionally served in a small porcelain cup called a kahve fincanı 'coffee cup'.[6]

Another ancient tradition involves placing the cezve filled with coffee in a pan filled with hot sand. The pan is heated over an open flame, thereby letting the sand take total control of the heat. The heat created by the sand lets the coffee foam to the top almost immediately. The heat can also be adjusted by the depth of the cezve in the sand. This process is usually repeated three to four times and then the coffee is finally served in small cups called demitasse cups.[7]

The amount of sugar is specified when ordering the coffee. It may be unsweetened (Turkish: sade kahve), with little or moderate sugar (Turkish: az şekerli kahve, orta şekerli kahve or orta kahve), or sweet (Turkish: çok şekerli kahve). Coffee is often served with something small and sweet to eat, such as Turkish delight.[8][9] It is sometimes flavoured with cardamom,[4] mastic, salep,[10] or ambergris.[11] A lot of the powdered coffee grounds are transferred from the cezve to the cup; in the cup, some settle on the bottom but much remains in suspension and is consumed with the coffee.

According to connoisseurs

In a paper for the 2013 Oxford Food Symposium, Tan and Bursa identified the features of the art or craft of making and serving Turkish coffee, according to the traditional procedures:

  • Roasting. Ideally the best green Arabica beans are medium-roasted in small quantities over steady heat in a shallow, wrought-iron roasting pan. It is crucial to stop at the right moment, then transfer the beans to the next stage:
  • Cooling. The beans are allowed to cool down in a wooden box and absorb excess oil. The kind of wood is claimed to affect the taste, walnut being the best.
  • Pounding or grinding. The beans must be reduced into a very fine powder. The fineness of the powder is crucial to the success of Turkish coffee since it affects the foam and mouth feel. (According to one source,[12]: 218  the particle size should be 75–125 microns.) Strict connoisseurs insist that they must be hand-pounded in a wooden mortar, although it is difficult to do this while achieving an uniform fineness. Consequently it has become more usual to grind them in a brass or copper mill, though it does make for drier particles.
  • Brewing. It is essential to use a proper cezve. This vessel is a conical flask, being wider at the base than at the neck, and is made of thick forged copper. (A common sized cezve will make one cup of coffee, and they can easily be ordered online in many western countries.) Cold water, several teaspoons of the ground coffee (at least 7 grams per person)[12]: 219  and any sugar are put in the cezve and it is put on the fire. The tapering shape of the vessel encourages the formation of foam and retains the volatile aromas. The coffee should never be allowed to come to a rolling boil, and must not be over-done. "This stage requires close monitoring and delicate timing since a good Turkish coffee has the thickest possible layer of froth at the top". Some think that the metallic copper helps to improve the taste.
  • Serving. The cezve has a spout by which it is poured into the serving cup. While the cup design might not seem to have anything to do with the taste of the beverage, connoisseurs say it makes a difference. The best cups are made of porcelain with a thin rim: it affects mouth feel. A long cultural tradition emphasises the pleasure of being served coffee in beautiful cups, which are family heirlooms. The beverage is served together with a glass of water which should be sipped first to cleanse the mouth. Other cultural traditions affect the guest's appreciation of the beverage and the conviviality of the occasion, including story-telling, fortune-telling, and so forth.

While some of these stages may be curtailed in modern coffee drinking, for example the coffee might be purchased already roasted and ground, the rituals and paraphernalia (e.g. the anticipatory smell of the roasting beans) do act on the imagination and have a psychological effect.[13]


Istanbul coffeehouse, c. 1809 (unknown Greek artist, Victoria and Albert Museum)

Coffee drinking spread in the Islamic world in the 16th century.[14]: 88  From the Hijaz it arrived in Cairo;[15][16]: 14  from thence it went to Syria and Istanbul.[17]: 14  The coffee tree was first cultivated commercially in the Yemen, having been introduced there from the rainforests of Ethiopia[nb 1] where it grew wild.[18] For a long time[19]: 85  Yemenis had a world monopoly on the export of coffee beans[18] (according to Carl Linnaeus, by deliberately destroying their ability to germinate).[20]: 102  For nearly a century (1538–1636) the Ottoman empire controlled the southern coastal region of the Yemen, notably its famous coffee port Mocha.[17]: 163  In the 18th century Egypt was the richest province of the Ottoman empire, and the chief commodity it traded was Yemeni coffee.[21] Cairo merchants were responsible for moving it from the Yemen to markets in the Islamic world.[15]: 92–94 

Coffee was in use in Istanbul by 1539, for a legal document mentions Ottoman admiral Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha's house had a coffee chamber.[22]: 247  It appears that the first coffeehouse in Istanbul was opened in 1554 (some say 1551)[22]: 249 [15]: 87  by Hakem of Aleppo and Șems of Damascus (they may have been separate establishments at first).[16]: 23  Soon, coffeehouses spread all over Istanbul and even to small towns in Anatolia.[23]: 744 

Ignatius d'Ohsson described for French readers the Turkish method of brewing coffee (Tableau Général de l’Empire Othoman, 1789). His description, translated in this note,[24] closely resembles the present day version, including the production of foam. From the traveller Jean de Thévenot it appears Turks were using it at least a century before that. He mentions that they drank it black; some added cloves, cardamom or sugar, but it was thought to be less healthy,[25] and until recently, an older generation of connoisseurs disdained the habit of sugaring Turkish coffee.[16]: 5 

Origin of the Turkish method

Outside an Istanbul coffeehouse (1910 postcard, British Museum)

There are inconsistent claims as to the origin of Turkish coffee. Without citing historical sources, some authors have asserted the method originated in the Yemen.[26][27][28] or in Damascus (a plausible, if unsubstantiated claim, since the Middle Eastern coffeehouse did probably originate in Damascus[29] and was brought to Istanbul by Syrians, see above); or with the Turkish people themselves.[12]

Yemenis may have been the first to consume coffee as a hot beverage (instead of chewing the bean, or adding it to solid food)[19]: 88  and the earliest social users were probably Sufi mystics in that region who needed to stay awake for their nocturnal vigils.[22]: 246  However a 1762 Danish scientific expedition noted that Yemenis did not like coffee made the "Turkish" way, and rarely drank it, thinking it bad for the health: they much preferred kisher, a beverage made of the coffee shells which more closely resembled a tea;[20]: 105  Likewise, according to scientist John Ellis (1774), French visitors to the Yemeni royal court noticed that only a version was drunk made from coffee husks with a colour like beer.[30]: 20  In 1910, the U.S. consul at Aden reported

the Yemen Arab never uses coffee himself, contrary to general opinion and the reports of some travelers, but raises it almost wholly for export. He uses kishar, a beverage he brews from the dried hulls, in large quantities... So little is coffee used by the people that a few months after the new crop has been gathered it is impossible for one passing through the country to buy a single pound[31]

and it has been said that Yemenis do not drink much coffee to this day.[19]: 88 

If Turkish coffee is defined as "a very strong black coffee served with the fine grounds in it", then the method is generic in Middle Eastern cities (in rural areas a different method is used and is called Arabic coffee)[5]: 37  and goes by various other names too, such as Egyptian coffee, Syrian coffee, and so forth,[32] though there may be some local variations.

Illegality and acceptance

Sultan's chief coffee-cook in his ceremonial robes c. 1790 (British Museum)

The English word coffee derives from Turkish kahve, which came from Arabic qahwah,[33] which could mean wine.[34]: 18  It is sometimes stated that coffee was forbidden in Islam, albeit the ban was not very effective.[34]: 3–6 [23]: 747  However, it seems most Muslim religious scholars actually supported coffee, or were not averse to it on principle.[35] It was governments who wanted to suppress coffee gatherings, fearing they were foci of political dissent.[22]: 252  "What was condemned was not caffeine's physiological effects but rather the freedom of coffeehouse talk which rulers consided subversive".[19]: 84 

Already in 1543 several ships were ordered to be sunk in Istanbul harbour for importing coffee.[36]: 90  Under Sultan Murad IV those found keeping a coffeehouse were cudgelled for a first offence, sewn in a bag and thrown into the Bosphorus for a second.[19]: 90  These bans were sporadic and often ignored. (Similarly, the government of Charles II of England tried to suppress coffee houses as seditious gatherings - the ban lasted a few days[30]: 14  - and, much later, the republican government of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk tried to prohibit or discourage coffeehouses in Turkish villages, saying they were places where men gathered to waste their time).[37]: 434–454  Eventually the authorities found it to their advantage to tax the trade not suppress it.[14]: 93  Fifteen years after coffee arrived in Istanbul there were over 600 coffeehouses, wrote an Armenian historian.[38]: 10 

To prepare Turkish coffee really well is not easy,[13]: 317 [38]: 14–15  and prominent Ottoman Turks kept specialist coffee cooks for the purpose. Sultan Süleyman had a kahvecibasi or chief coffee-cook, and it became a traditional practice for Sultans. To demonstrate the civility of their rule they built magnificent coffeehouses in newly conquered parts of the Ottoman empire.[38]: 13 

International diffusion

Western Europe

Oriental room, Caffè Florian, Venice, in business since 1720

From the Ottoman empire, coffee-drinking spread to western Europe, probably being first introduced into Venice, where it was consumed as a medicine.[39]: 25, 27  Early consumers were travellers who imported it for their own use.[40]: 286 [41]: 200  Other early users were virtuosi: gentleman-scholars curious about the outside world and willing to try exotic products.[42]: 10–15  Since these early adopters were trying to recreate the genuine article, probably they were making proper Turkish coffee, or at least something like it. For example Jean de Thévenot imported authentic ibriks from the Ottoman empire.[41]: 209 

However, most early modern Europeans did not like coffee,[41]: 194, 200 [38]: 4  which is an acquired taste,[42]: 5–6  and especially they did not like the black, bitter Turkish version.[41]: 201  In any case it was too expensive: in France, coffee beans sold for the equivalent of $8,000 a kilo.[41]: 215  Coffee did not become a popular beverage until it was altered to appeal to European palates and its price drastically lowered, as follows.

The Yemeni coffee monopoly was broken by the Dutch, who managed to obtain viable coffee plants from Mocha and propagated them to their empire in Java.[41]: 213 [42]: 76  They were followed by the French, who planted a tree at the Jardin des Plantes de Paris; it has been claimed that "This tree was destined to be the progenitor of most of the coffee of the French colonies, as well as those of South America, Central America, and Mexico",[39]: 5–9 [40]: 286  i.e. most of the coffee in the world, though it has been called "a neat story".[43]: 2  By the time of the French Revolution, 80% of the world's coffee was grown in the Americas and French coffee was ousting the Yemeni product in Cairo,[43]: 12  even being exported back to Mocha itself. The price of coffee fell so much that by mid-18th century it was accessible to French townspeople of all classes.[41]: 214, 223 

Fashion plate, Paris, 1694: the Princesse de Bournonville takes coffee in 'Turkish' attire (Nicolas Bonnart: Bibliothéque Nationale de France)

When coffee was eventually popularised, what was served was not genuine Turkish coffee, but a product heavily diluted with water (much weaker than modern espresso)[42]: 80  or milk,[41]: 212  and sweetened with sugar.[42]: 80 [41]: 196  "Combining coffee with fresh milk turned a Turkish drink into a French one".[41]: 204  Already in 1689, in a paper for fellow scientists at the Royal Society, London, John Houghton though stressing coffee's Ottoman origins, said very good coffee was made by boiling the grounds in plenty of water and letting them settle, leaving a clear, reddish liquor:[44] which is not Turkish coffee.

Despite this, the "Turkish" connection was strongly promoted, since its exotic connotations helped the new drink to sell. Coffeehouse keepers wore turbans, or called their shops "Turk's Head" and suchlike.[45] Especially in France there was a craze for things Turkish: fashion plates depicted aristocratic ladies taking coffee while dressed as sultanas, attended by servants in Moorish costume. Its medical value was stressed: it became popular in France when doctors advised café au lait was good for the health.[41]: 201, 203–208, 211  In England, the earliest advertisement (1652) for a coffee house — owned by Pasqua Rosée, an Armenian from Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik) — claimed that Turkish people "are not troubled with the Stone, Gout, Dropsie, or Scurvey" and "their skins are exceedingly cleer and white". Despite this, Rosée's product was weak enough to be drunk a half pint (485 ml) at a time on an empty stomach,[39]: 53, 55  not an attribute of real Turkish coffee. If there were 'Turkish' coffeehouses in Oxford or Paris, the cited historical sources do not show they were serving coffee made in the Turkish manner.

The real Ottoman influence was on European coffee house culture. "The coffeehouse and café, far from being English and French creations, were at heart an import from Mecca, Cairo, and Constantinople",[41]: 198  a topic outside the scope of this article.


The first person who brought coffee to America may have been Captain John Smith and, since he had been in Turkish service (he had been enslaved and given to a pasha's mistress),[46] conceivably he prepared it in the Turkish manner. Already by 1683 William Penn was complaining about the price of coffee in Pennsylvania.[43]: 13 


In the 20th century, especially in wartime and the 1950s, shortages in Turkey meant that coffee was scarcely available for years at a time, or was adulterated with chickpeas and other substances. Habits changed; the old coffee culture declined; the epicurean coffee aficionado was less to be seen. Although still important in Turkish tradition, today Turks drink more tea than coffee.[16]: 6–7, 84–85, 93–100, 150  A survey of Turkish regions found that in some areas "coffee" was made without using coffee beans at all.[47] By 2018 there were said to be over 400 Starbucks stores in Istanbul alone, and younger Turks were embracing third-wave coffee.[48]: 59, 62  The most popular brand in Turkey is Nescafé.[49] However, UNESCO has inscribed Turkish coffee culture and tradition on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,[47]: 2  and "there still exist serious aficionados who would never trade the taste of Turkish coffee with anything else".[16]: 7 



Turkish coffee by oldypak lp photo
Turkish coffee

The grounds left after drinking Turkish coffee are sometimes used to tell fortunes, a practice known as tasseography.[50] The cup is turned over into the saucer to cool, and the patterns of the coffee grounds are interpreted.

Turkish weddings

As well as being an everyday beverage, Turkish coffee is also a part of the traditional Turkish wedding custom. As a prologue to marriage, the bridegroom's parents (in the lack of his father, his mother and an elderly member of his family) must visit the young girl's family to ask the hand of the bride-to-be and the blessings of her parents upon the upcoming marriage. During this meeting, the bride-to-be must prepare and serve Turkish coffee to the guests. For the groom's coffee, the bride-to-be sometimes uses salt instead of sugar to gauge his character. If the bridegroom drinks his coffee without any sign of displeasure, the bride-to-be assumes that the groom is good-tempered and patient. As the groom already comes as the demanding party to the girl's house, in fact it is the boy who is passing an exam and etiquette requires him to receive with all smiles this particular present from the girl.[51] In some regions, however, "if the coffee is brewed without any froth. it means 'You have no chance!'".[16]: 71 

Names and variants

Typical Czech or Slovak Turkish coffee made of ground coffee beans poured with boiling water

There is controversy about its name e.g. in some ex-Ottoman dependencies, mostly due to nationalistic feelings or political rivalry with Turkey.[26]


This type of strong coffee is a standard of Armenian households. The main difference is that cardamom is used in Armenian coffee.[52] Armenians introduced the coffee to Corfu when they settled the island, where it is known as "eastern coffee" due to its Eastern origin. Corfu, which had never been part of the Ottoman holdings, did not have an established Ottoman coffee culture before it was introduced by the Armenians.[53] According to The Reuben Percy Anecdotes compiled by journalist Thomas Byerley, an Armenian opened a coffee shop in Europe in 1674, at a time when coffee was first becoming fashionable in the West.[54]

The term Turkish coffee is still used in many languages but in Armenian it is either called հայկական սուրճ, haykakan surč, 'Armenian coffee', or սեւ սուրճ, sev surč, 'black coffee', referring to the traditional preparation done without milk or creamer. If unsweetened it is called bitter (դառը or daruh) in Armenia, but more commonly it is brewed with a little sugar (normal).[55] Armenians will sometimes serve a plate of baklava, gata, or nazook alongside the coffee.[56][57]

Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Lithuania

A beverage called turecká káva or turek is very popular in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, although other forms of coffee preparation such as espresso have become more popular in the last few decades, decreasing the popularity of turek. Turek is usually no longer served in cafés, but it is prepared in pubs and kiosks, and in homes. The Czech and Slovak form of Turkish coffee is different from Turkish coffee in Turkey, the Arab world or Balkan countries, since a cezve is not used; instead the desired amount of ground coffee is put in a cup and boiling or almost boiling water is poured over it. In recent years, Turkish coffee is also made in a cezve (džezva in Czech), but Turkish coffee usually means the method described above.[58][59] Coffee is prepared in the same way in Poland[60] and Lithuania.[61]


In Greece, Turkish coffee was formerly referred to simply as 'Turkish' (τούρκικος). But political tensions with Turkey in the 1950s led to the political euphemism Greek coffee (ελληνικός καφές),"[62][63] which became even more popular after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974:[62] "[…] Greek–Turkish relations at all levels became strained, 'Turkish coffee' became 'Greek coffee' by substitution of one Greek word for another while leaving the Arabic loan-word, for which there is no Greek equivalent, unchanged."[64][65] There were even advertising campaigns promoting the name Greek coffee in the 1990s.[65] The name for a coffee pot remains either a briki (μπρίκι) in mainland Greek or a tzisves (τζισβές) in Cypriot Greek.

Former Yugoslavia

Cup of coffee made in džezva, from Serbia

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkish coffee is also called Bosnian coffee (Bosnian: bosanska kahva), which is made slightly differently from its Turkish counterpart. A deviation from the Turkish preparation is that when the water reaches its boiling point, a small amount is saved aside for later, usually in a coffee cup. Then, the coffee is added to the pot (džezva), and the remaining water in the cup is added to the pot. Everything is put back on the heat source to reach its boiling point again, which only takes a couple of seconds since the coffee is already very hot.[2] Coffee drinking in Bosnia is a traditional daily custom and plays an important role during social gatherings.

In Serbia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Croatia it is called 'Turkish coffee' (turška kava / turska kava / турска кафа / turska kafa), 'domestic coffee' (domača kava, домаћа кафа / domaća kafa / domaća kava) or simply 'coffee' (kava, кафа / kafa). It is nearly identical to the Turkish version. In Serbia, Turkish coffee is also called српска кафа (srpska kafa), which means 'Serbian coffee'. The most common name is домаћа кафа (domaća kafa), meaning 'domestic coffee'.[66]

See also


  1. ^ The robusta species originated further south, in the Congo basin, but it was not adapted for human consumption until much later.


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