Turkish Coffee
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Coffee and Coffeehouses

The Italian, Edmondo De Amicis, describes coffeehouse in Istanbul in 1874 in the following manner:

“We were sitting in front of a Turkish coffeehouse in the suburb of Kasımpaşa on the shore of the Golden Horn. This coffeehouse, although it was like all other Turkish coffeehouses in its modest appearance, was very original. I might even claim that it was precisely of the type of the first coffeehouse opened during the reign of Sultan Süleyman I or that it was very like one of the coffeehouses that was shut down due to one of Sultan Murad IV’s stringent decrees. At one time a great many ‘Imperial Rescripts’ were proclaimed banning [the use of] coffee which was described as a ‘destroyer of sleep and the enemy of lust,’ and in the name of religion what great battles were waged [against it], but neither these battles nor any of the blood that was shed was of any profit. Now, one can easily drink coffee not only in coffeehouses, but also at top of the towers of Galata and Beyazıt and even on the ferry boats. There are even coffeehouse cemeteries. No matter where one finds himself in Istanbul – and even without looking about one- it is sufficient to cry out, ‘Bring me some coffee!’

The coffeehouse in which we were sitting was a rather large room painted entirely in whitewash. All four walls had polished wainscoating up to the height of a man and at the lower portion of these wooden panels there were very low divans running the length of each wall. A hearth for cooking coffee stood in one corner. A large-nosed Turk  was cooking coffee consisted in small copper-pots. A middling-sized mirror was hanging on one of the walls. Standing near the mirror on a shelf-like object were razors and shaving accessories that caught my attention. Turkish coffeehouses also generally serve as barber shops. It is not unusual for the coffeehouse keeper to practice dentistry or surgery.”

In the second half of the 19th century, coffeehouses where newspapers, journals, and books were read were called a kıraathane, or literally, a “reading house.” Called the Okçularbaşı Kıraathanesi, the first such reading house was located opposite the tomb of Reşid Pasha in the district of Beyazıt; it was afterwards known as Sarafim Kıraathanesi. This was the first coffeehouse to make newspapers and magazines and even purchased books available for the customers. It was also the first to offer musical entertainments – outside of the month of Ramadan – on Friday and Sunday evenings; and in consequence it began to be called a club (gazino). The leader of this ensemble was the violinist Kör Sebuh, who was very popular with the residents of Istanbul. During the same period, well-known bureaucrats in the imperial service used to come to the coffeehouses in the district of Mahmut Paşa. The gazino that drew prominent figures and the well-to-do during the reign of Abdülaziz was located in Karakulak Han. By the time of the reign of Abdülhamid II (1876-1908), the architecture of coffeehouses, which had formerly possessed a cheerful atmosphere, had now so altered their form that they lost their clientele from the bureaucracy and the scholary and literary world.

The habit of tea-drinking just like the potato was an import from Russia at the time of the Crimean War.

The first tea in Europe arrived in 1610. And by 1637 it was being regularly imported. As a hot drink, however, its use failed to catch on, because it was employed for medicinal purposes. In his work appearing in 1679, the physician, Cornelius Bontekoe, stated that he had treated the gout in his master with tea, which stimulated an increase in the demand for tea.

Tea consumption in the Russian Empire in the 19th century achieved an extremely high level of popularity. The Turkish word semaver comes from the Russian samovar. Though sugar was not put in the tea, tea was drunk holding a lump of sugar in the mouth to sweeten the tea, a practice that was adopted in Erzurum, Kars and Hakkari. Russian officers’ habit of diluting tea to a weak concentration is remiscent of the weak solution called in Turkish “Pasha’s tea.” The establishment of tea-drinking in the Republic of Turkey occured after the war with Russia in the Caucasus. The cultivation of tea in the Black Sea region in the early years of the republic became wide spread and tea competed with coffee in the coffeehouses.

Coffeehouses in the Ottoman Empire and the republic confined their offerings to only coffee (and tea)- unlike the cafes in Europe which became places in which one could dine. Though some Turkish coffeehouses eventually became gazinos, (restaurants with musical entertainment, generally open only on the evenings), the overwhelming majority preserved their identity as simply a place for males to gather to drink coffee or tea and play cards or backgammon. In this guise, they became popular haunts and homes away from home for minstrels, allnight drinkers, bird fanciers, fighting cock handlers, wandering dervishes, tradesmen, laborers, greased wrestlers and compatriots in neighbourhoods, along the boulevards, in the countryside and the in the village.

In 1655 Thévenot described the preparation and serving of coffee in the Ottoman realm, thus:

“When you want to drink coffee, you start with a special spouted vessel filled with water, which is placed over the heat and brought to the boil. The coffee in powdered form is added to the boiling water. For each three demitasse cups of coffee one spoonful of coffee is used. When the water is again brought to the boil the vessel must immeadiately be removed from the heat or it will boil over. After it has been brought to a boil some ten to a dozen times it is poured in porcelain cups and served.”

We may now heat to the boiling point and prepare a cup of Turkish coffee worthy of that saying, “One incurs a forty-year debt of gratitute to the person who fixes you a cup of coffee.”

Turkish Coffee

The coffee should be freshly roasted and finely pulverized. The water should also be chemical free and fresh. The heat should be very low and the sugar must be granulated.

The vessel (cezve) in which Turkish coffee is cooked is graduated in size so that it holds water equal to the amount to be served and is cup-like with a raised pouring lip. Place cold water, one measure for each cup, and add coffee and sugar to taste, and stir well. Once placed over the heat it should not be stirred until it reaches the boiling point and about to boil over. Stirring at this point produces a foam on top. The foam at the edges is spooned into the  center and, when it is just at the point of boiling over, coffeepot is removed from the heat. The foam is divided among cups and the remainder is shaken with a gentle motion to prevent the grounds from sinking to the bottom. The pot is replaced on heat and once more brought to a boil. The cups are filled nearly to the top.

Two demitasse spoonsful of coffee is used per cup. The amount of sugar ranges from ½ teaspoon for slightly sweet, 1 teaspoon for medium, and 1½ teaspoon for quite sweet; amd some drink it sade, or black with no sugar.


The Cuisine in Historical Perspective by Deniz Gürsoy, Oğlak Güzel Kitaplar 2006, p.164-170

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