How to Brew and Serve Turkish Coffee

From its birthplaces in Ethiopia and Yemen, via Istanbul, to the cafes of Europe, and then far beyond, coffee is a global phenomenon that can be traced back to Turkey.

Turkish coffee served in ornate drinkware.
Coffee in Turkey is brewed and served in a special way, as seen in this image by vsl / Shutterstock.

Despite tea's meteoric rise in the last century or so to become Turkey's most popular hot drink, coffee still has strong cultural ties in the country. Turkish coffee, or Türk kahvesi, has a long and storied history and is still widely enjoyed today. It was recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco in 2013. This is where you can get the best Turkish coffee.

How to brew and order the ideal cup

Instead of bean origin being the defining factor between different cups of Turkish coffee, the grinding, roasting, and brewing method is. Traditionally, the coffee is prepared by simmering it in a small, long-handled metal pot called a cezve over low heat. To avoid burning your fingers, you can also prepare it directly in the cup. The cezve is heated in hot sand rather than held directly over a flame, and (gasp!) ) using a Turkish coffee maker

Since the extremely finely ground coffee is mixed with cold water and sugar before each cup is cooked individually, customers must indicate their preferred level of sweetness when placing their order. A cup of Turkish coffee can be made sade (plain), az şekerli (slightly sweet), orta şekerli (medium sweet), or şekerli (sweet). Each restaurant uses its own standard cup size for Turkish coffee. Don't bother requesting a "grande," decaf, carryout, or milk.

Turkish coffee preparation in a coffee shop in Tirana, Albania.
Alla Simacheva / Shutterstock Some Turkish coffee is made in hot sand.

Customs involving Turkish coffee

Despite the fact that the Turkish word for breakfast, kahvalt, comes from the words for "under coffee" (as in, something you eat before drinking), tea is now more commonly consumed with the morning meal. Most people don't seem to worry about the caffeine in their late-night Turkish coffee keeping them awake, so it's more common to order it in the afternoon or after dinner.

One common accompaniment to Turkish coffee is a small sweet treat like lokum (Turkish delight), along with a glass of water. While waiting for the coffee to cool and the grounds to settle to the bottom of the cup, you can take a few sips of water to clear your palate. Because it is customary to drink Turkish coffee without filtering it, the slogan "good to the last drop" is not appropriate.

Fal, a form of fortune-telling based on the shapes left behind by the coffee grounds as they run down the inside of the cup, can be practiced by anyone who sees a finished cup turned upside down on the saucer.

Turkish coffee at Okkalı Kahve.jpg
Okkalikahve's lokum-topped Turkish coffee / Jennifer Hattam / Lonely Planet

Definitions of various Turkish coffees

There are countless regional specialties of Turkish coffee that can be difficult to find outside of Turkey. Infused with the herbal, woodsy-flavored resin of the mastic tree, damla sakzl kahve (mastic coffee) is a well-known Aegean specialty.

Keep an eye out for cilveli kahve (flirtatious coffee), which is double-roasted and sprinkled with finely ground almonds, in the province of Manisa, which is located inland from the Aegean coast.

The dark, strong, and bitter brew known as mrra kahvesi has its roots in the Arab world and is widely available in the south-east of Turkey. (The Arabic word for bitter, mur, is where the name comes from.) Hasankeyf, a town in Batman province, is famous for its hilve kahvesi, which is made with honey, walnuts, and (unusually) milk; meanwhile, dibek kahvesi is ground in a mortar.

Gaziantep is the sole location where you can find a rare caffeine-free alternative that isn't derived from coffee beans. Menengiç kahvesi, on the other hand, is made with wild pistachios that are roasted, ground, and cooked in a manner similar to that of almonds.

A man in a red sweater makes Turkish coffee
Mandabatmaz's Turkish coffee has been celebrated for decades. Jennifer Hattam / Lonely Planet

The Best Spots in Istanbul to Get a Turkish Coffee

Because they roast their beans for a longer period of time than usual, the Turkish coffee at Mandabatmaz in the Beyolu neighborhood tastes rich and almost chocolatey. The thick brews at this shop are reflected in the unusual name, which translates to "water buffalo doesn't sink."

Okkal Kahve in Beşiktaş is unrivaled for its ability to provide a wide variety of regional flavors in a single location. Damla sakzli, menengiç, dibek, cilveli, kakuleli (with cardamom), sütlü (with milk), and probably another dozen varieties of Turkish coffee are available at the cozy cafe.

Fazl Bey in Kadköy, Nev-i Cafe in Balat, and ark Kahvesi in the Grand Bazaar are also great places to enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee in Istanbul. The Mimar Sinan Teras Cafe in Fatih, Moda ay Bahçesi in Kadköy, and the Pierre Loti Cafe in Eyüp are all great places to enjoy the scenery rather than the coffee.

Cezves and turkish coffee cups hanging in a shop in Turkey
Outside of Eminönü's Spice Bazaar, you can buy cezves and Turkish coffee cups. Jennifer Hattam / Lonely Planet

Immerse yourself in the local heritage and history.

Visit the Coffee Museum in Safranbolu, a charming town in Turkey's northern region, to learn about the Ottoman Empire's and Turkey's rich coffee history. Many of the various methods of preparing Turkish coffee are on display, and visitors to the museum can try some of them at the on-site cafe.

The Pera Museum in Istanbul has a permanent exhibition titled "Coffee Break: The Adventure of Coffee in Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics," which explores the rituals and relationships surrounding coffee through hundreds of exquisitely shaped and decorated ceramic coffee cups and accessories spanning multiple centuries.

A guide to the best coffee-themed Turkish souvenir shops

The Spice Bazaar in Eminönü is a great place to find a traditional copper cezve and a set of coffee cups, which make a lovely gift or souvenir. Visit Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, who sells freshly ground Turkish coffee, and stand in line near the southwest corner of the bazaar. Beyolu's Mandabatmaz roasts and grinds its own coffee, which can be purchased in pre-packaged form to go.

The Turkish home goods retailer Paşabahçe manufactures coffee mugs and sets in a wide range of designs, while Istanbul-based designer zlem Tuna adds her own sophisticated touch to such tableware. Finally, a small book that goes along with the "Coffee Break" exhibit is available for purchase in the Pera Museum store.

Additionally, you may enjoy:
A guide to enjoying coffee like an authentic Italian.
Where to get the best cup of coffee in every country
A Tutorial on Vietnamese Coffee

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