In 1985 I had returned to Turkey for the first time in ten years. After a Kebap Dinner at the Konyali Restaurant on Bagdat Caddesi, my wife asked for orta sekerli (semisweet) Turkish Coffee. Being very self conscious to act like a local, I reminded my wife that she did not have to mention the word "Turkish" since we were in Turkey. I was wrong.
In the seventies Turkish Coffee was the only kind of coffee served in most restaurants. Yes, we had a percolator, a German make "Braun" at home and my father used to grind some imported beans every Sunday and make some "American" Coffee which had a bitter taste and a rich aroma. I am sure; the same was served in the Hilton Hotel in Istanbul or French style pastry houses like Marquise in Beyoglu or the Karpic Restaurant in Ankara. But this was about it.
Now in the eighties things had changed. The outdoor restaurants and pastry shops on Bagdat caddesi were full of people having good time, " Le Bon Temps Rouler", by sipping the so called " Nescafe" from a china cup. Some preferred tea, but not the traditional Turkish tea served in clear small glasses but rather the so called "pochette tea" which tasted weak compared to the former but looked much more European or British. Like so many other words in Turkish which was adapted from the brand name (ciklet from chicklet, jilet from Gillette, frijder from Frigidiare, etc.), the instant coffee from brand-name Nestle became Nescafe. I guess Maxwell House, Tasters Choice or Folgers did not sound as good as Nescafe.
Just like Yogurt, a Turkish invention, which is made in hundred different ways and tastes in America, coffee the once Turkish drink became an addiction to westerners with different tastes and styles. Coffee Mocha, Expresso, Cappuccino to name a few.
The beginnings of coffee is attributed to the 11th century Arab Physician and Philosopher Avicenna, who was familiar with a drink known to him as K'hawah.He thought that K'hawah had some medicinal qualities.* During the Ottoman times, the Turks adopted coffee as an alternative to wine since the latter is prohibited in Islam. A famous Italian traveler and writer Pietro della Valle mentions in his writings the Turks imbibing a black beverage as a refreshment in summer and warming instrument in winter. He adds that coffee is always consumed after dinner, to settle the stomach.
The Europeans first encounter with coffee was in 1669 when the Ottoman Emissary Suleiman Aga was received in Versailles by Lois XIV. Large quantities of rugs, hangings, rugs and coffee were brought to Paris. The French aristocracy was impressed with this new drink which had a nice aroma. Soon an Armenian named Pascal* opened the first Coffee House in Paris. During the times of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent the Turks came as far as the door steps of Vienna. After the unsuccessful attempt to take the city the Turkish army retrieved. Behind them among other things they left vast quantities of coffee. The Viennese people did not know what to do with these strange beans. Some suggested throwing them into the river, some suggested feed the animals. But a wiser Kolhitsky brewed the coffee, loved the aroma and decided to open the first coffeehouse in Vienna. He added milk, sugar and cream to the black drink and soon developed 20 ways of preparing it including Mocha.
The Turkish Coffee has always been an important part of our culture. It is customary to serve your guests tea or buy your customer tea at your office. But you always suggest a cup of coffee to people you value most. There is a saying in Turkish that a cup of coffee served will be remembered and appreciated by the recipient for forty years.
Once in a Greek Restaurant in Louisiana, I ordered Turkish Coffee. The young American waitress apologized and told me that they only had Greek Coffee. In another Restaurant recently, this time a Turkish one, I noticed that the coffee was served within one minute after I ordered it. It tasted nothing like Turkish coffee but rather like an expresso without a head. When, I asked the Maitre'di who made the coffee, he mentioned that his Mexican all around man was thought how to make it and he was doing a great job with it. I did not make a comment.
As they say, you cannot rush good things. Preparing Turkish Coffee to me is a ceremony which should be a step by step procedure. Here is how I had described the procedure to an American friend at one time:
HOW TO MAKE TURKISH COFFEE*
USE THE LITTLE COFFEE POT WITH THE LONG HANDLE CALLED CEZVE (pronounced DJEZ-VEH). PUT A COFFEE SPOON (REMEMBER THE SPOON IS A MINIATURE OF THE COFFEE SPOON WE USE HERE) OF COFFEE PER CUP YOU WANT TO FIX INTOTHE CEZVE. PUT 1 SPOON OF SUGAR FOR SEKERLI (SWEET), HALF A SPOON FOR ORTA SEKERLI (SEMI-SWEET) OR NO SUGAR FOR SEKERSIZ. FOR EVERY CUP OF COFFEE YOU WANT TO FIX. PUT THAT MANY FINCAN OF WATER. (FIN-DJAN) IS THE LITTLE CHINA CUP .MIX THE INGREDIENTS AND BRING TO A HIGH BOIL. WHEN IT STARTS BOILING, DISTRIBUTE THE COFFEE AMONG THE FINCANS ONLY HALF FULL. BRING THE CEZVE ON THE FIRE AGAIN THIS TIME TO A LOW HEAT TO MAKE SOME HEAD CALLED KOPUK (KOEH- PUYK). DISTRIBUTE EVENLY TO THE CUPS. JUST LIKE THE HEAD ON A BEER, KOPUK IS IMPORTANT ON A COFFEE. ALSO ONCE YOU DRINK THE COFFEE TURN THE CUP UPSIDE DOWN ON THE SAUCER AND LET IT THE HELVE (MUD) COOL DOWN.
Now all you need is to find a fortune teller to tell your fortune.
December 15, 2003
*The Horizon Cook Book An Illustrated History of Eating and Drinking Through the Ages by William Harian Hale, published by American Heritage, 1968 Pages 169, 170