Tina loved going around Istanbul. After admiring the view of the Hagia Sophia, she decides to rest her feet at a cute little restaurant. Tina stirs her tiny cup of coffee, admires the foam on top, takes a sip, and —PTOOEY! Mud! I think someone needs to learn how to drink Turkish coffee. 😱
When you drink Turkish coffee, you should start with a sip of water to cleanse your palate. You SHOULD NOT stir your Turkish coffee. Finally, enjoy it by taking small sips.
What is in Turkish coffee?
Turkish coffee, also known as Turkish Kahvesi, is made with very finely ground coffee beans, water, and most of the time sugar.
It is a Middle Eastern coffee served in tiny cups.
It’s not brewed like the finely ground beans for espresso shots. This is because the finely ground beans go in with every cup of Turkish coffee.
For the uninitiated, this sounds so scary. Don’t worry, it’s not as daunting as you think. But it leaves us to wonder: “What does Turkish coffee taste like?” Because of the way it's brewed, Turkish coffee has a strong, bold, and bitter-sweet flavour.
Although it is less concentrated than an espresso, you will also notice a very distinct concentrated, and somewhat gritty body to this drink.
Turkish coffee represents a coffee preparation technique originating in Middle Eastern and European countries such as Turkey, Iran, and Greece.
The use of extra finely ground coffee and constant contact with boiling water aids in the extraction of flavour compounds. Since the grounds are not filtered, this makes the coffee thick.
But it is more than just coffee. It represents such an amazing communal culture in Turkey that Turkish coffee was inscribed as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2013.
It is prepared in a small coffee pot called a cezve. It can be cooked in three different ways:
All of these would offer slightly different flavour profiles.
Cooking Turkish coffee over sand is the most traditional way. First, a pan is filled with sand and is heated over an open flame.
The sand-filled pan gives you complete control over the heat. The depth of the coffee in the sand can be used to adjust the heat used for brewing.
When you leave the cups on the surface, they stay as warm as you want.
Cooking Turkish coffee in the sand is said to produce a thicker, richer, coffee and offers a deeper taste compared to the other preparations. This is probably because the coffee spends a longer time in the heat.
Traditional Turkish coffee is made by combining finely ground coffee beans with water and sugar (although few people prefer a zero-sugar option).
But since the sugar is added while the coffee is made, you’d have to ask for it upon making the order. Remember, you can’t stir your coffee so adding sugar “to taste” will be a dreadful idea.
Here are a few phrases to get you through ordering your Turkish coffee:
- az şekerli (ahz sheh-kehr-lee) - This would mean that you only want “a little sugar” in your coffee
- şekerli (sheh-kehr-lee) - this would roughly translate to asking for "a lot of sugar”
- orta şekerli (ohr-tah sheh-kehr-lee) or just orta- This is when you want medium sweetness
- Şekersiz (sheh-kehr-siz) or sade (sadɛ) - This means you are asking for your coffee to be unsweetened
Now, Turkish coffee can definitely be served unsweetened. However, it is most commonly prepared with moderate amounts of sugar. The spice cardamom is another common addition to Turkish coffee.
The last step involves heating the coffee mixture to a frothy foaming stage just below boiling. As the coffee warms, you will see a dark foam build up at the top of your cup. The foam on top is just—👨🍳🤌
But Turkish coffee is so much more than a small cup of coffee that gives you a strong punch. It is also a very important cultural symbol.
Is Turkish coffee strong?
Turkish coffee is one of the stronger types of coffee. Although it is usually made with sugar, it is quite intense and bitter —which can be an acquired taste for most people.
An old Turkish proverb perfectly describes the intensity and passion behind traditional Turkish coffee: “Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.”
Since Turkish coffee is made without a filter, it can be quite sandy. It is pretty concentrated too. But it's meant to be that way. Since Türk kahvesi (the process of making Turkish coffee) is unfiltered, it contains quite a lot of caffeine.
But does this mean that a cup of this Turkish goodness will keep me up all night? How much caffeine is in Turkish coffee? A cup of Turkish coffee typically contains two to five ounces.
At the same time, this also means that it has other beneficial compounds that may provide a variety of health benefits.
These compounds include chlorogenic acids, which are types of polyphenol antioxidants that provide health benefits. They have been shown to improve inflammation, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure.
Each cup fincan contains 50 to 65 mg of caffeine. However, its caffeine content can also be as low as 40 mg. Turkish coffee is rich and highly caffeinated, and it is popular in many countries around the world.
In terms of aroma and flavor profile, yes, Turkish coffee is pretty strong. This we still owe to the fact that the ground coffee beans are not filtered.
Because it is unfiltered, some of the fine coffee grounds remain suspended in the drink. When compared to a regular cup of coffee, the very fine grind contributes to a thicker coffee with a stronger flavor.
Despite all this, it’s interesting to know that Turkish coffee is still considered a moderate coffee. Some people would argue that espresso would still have more caffeine than a cup of Turkish coffee.
Almost all of the caffeine is transferred during the 20-30 seconds that hot water is forced through the grounds. This means you’d need more coffee grounds to make espresso.
So, it is kind of expected that there is more caffeine that gets transferred to the water.
As a result, the brew is extremely caffeinated. Because Turkish coffee is less concentrated than espresso, drinking a cup will not give you the jitters like other coffee drinks.
How to drink Turkish coffee
Turkish coffee is served in small cups with a glass of water and traditionally served with Turkish delight or lokum.
Before we go any further, let’s list the important aspect of Turkish coffee:
- It is made with very finely ground coffee beans.
- It is cooked in a small pot with a long handle called Cezve.
- It is served in a tiny cup called fincan.
But Turkish coffee is more of a showcase of culture than just a beverage.
As a matter of fact, the glory of Turkish coffee goes back to the Ottoman empire. It was brought to the country by Syrian traders. In the 17th century, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent has his coffee makers serve him coffee at court.
Turkish coffee has truly become an integral part of the rituals of the Ottoman court. It is pretty ceremonious that it was sort of part of the training for the women in the harem to make Turkish coffee.
Turkish coffee has even become part of marriage customs, particularly the salt coffee Turkish tradition. One of the most well-known customs is when the bride serves the groom Turkish coffee with large spoonfuls of salt.
The custom is regarded as a litmus test for the groom's demeanor. It is kind of a reminder that marriage is not always going to be sweet.
Every aspect of the wedding involves coffee even as early as the engagement. In fact, coffee Turkey divorce ceremonies are a thing!
To this day, Turkish coffee is primarily consumed in coffee shops where people gather to converse, share news, and read books.
The tradition itself is a symbol of hospitality, friendship, refinement, and entertainment that permeates all walks of life
There is even a famous Turkish phrase loosely translated to:
“A single cup of coffee can create a friendship that lasts for 40 years”. Or that “One cup of coffee is remembered for 40 years.”
The foam you see on top of the Turkish coffee is evidence that it is made well. This completes the whole beverage.
Turkish coffee is always served with water: a sip of water allows the person to clear his or her palate before drinking coffee. This should allow you to have the most enjoyable experience.
This exquisite drink is served in a fincan: a small cup.
You should be sipping your Turkish coffee slowly. Aside from making this an opportunity to engage with friends, family, and guests, taking small sips give the grounds time to settle at the bottom.
Yes, Turkish coffee is gritty —but who likes a mouthful of mud?!
Additionally, most people serve the coffee with a small, sweet treat like Turkish delights, chocolate, or candy.
I remember Turkish delights from Narnia. 😂
These are sweets made of starch and sugar gel. It is also known as “lokum.” Aside from the sweetness, they are more known for their fragrance since they’re made from rosewater or bergamot.
Some candy makers also use cinnamon and orange. I can imagine such a refreshing confection is made to counter the rather strong flavor of Turkish coffee.
Finally, the proper way to drink Turkish coffee is to dissolve the sugar first, then add the coffee. For each cup of coffee, you would need to use two heaping Turkish teaspoons.
The grounds of the coffee could float up so you better not stir ‘em. However, it is also a trick to drinking Turkish coffee to gently agitate your cup several times. Just tiny movements though —nothing crazy.
This is for you to re-mix the grounds with the water in the coffee. Otherwise, you'll have weaker coffee and a thicker layer of grounds at the bottom when you're finished.
For extra entertainment: read about your future in Turkish coffee!
One of the traditions in Turkey is a Turkish coffee cup reading. Yup, you read that right.
Aside from its fragrance and potency, what distinguishes Turkish coffee from its contemporaries is its ability to predict the future.
Coffee grounds for fortune telling involves looking for figures formed by the coffee grounds left at the bottom of the fincan. "Fal" refers to the Turkish tradition of divining the future from coffee grounds left at the bottom of a guest's cup.
Fortune-tellers will take a look at the grounds that settled for figures that may have formed at the bottom. They tell you how these figures may relate to your fortune or perhaps predict your future.
Reading coffee grounds is also referred to as tasseography. This is one of the world's oldest and most widely practiced fortune-telling traditions.
Luckily, you don’t have to go searching for a fortune-teller. And what if you’re not in Turkey?
Turns out, there are apps now that can deliver news of your luck ahead (or is it impending doom). All you need to do is take a picture of what is left of your Turkish coffee and upload it on the app.
With just a click on your phone, you can be part of this mysterious tradition.
It is common practice in the country to look into the future using the thick grounds left on the bottom of one's cup. Do you think you’d be up for this post-coffee drink routine? That’s quite mystical if you ask me.
It reminds me of when Professor Trelawney reads the future using tea leaves in Harry Potter. Millennials will recall how the weird professor predicted death and the danger that awaits. This is after she sees a figure of a dog at the bottom of the cup.
Source: Harry Potter, The Prisoner of Azkaban
What’s the best coffee for Turkish coffee?
Ideally, you should use Arabica beans for Turkish coffee. The medium-roasted to dark-roasted beans are the most popular grade.
They’re excellent for making Turkish coffee so that you could achieve the taste this coffee is supposed to be.
When making Turkish-style coffee, a dark roast that can stand up to the other intense flavors and aromas in the brew is best. Turkish coffee can be made with coffee of any roast level, but it must be made with fresh coffee.
Like espresso, you consume so much of the finely ground bean that its flavors are amplified in the cup.
Chocolate, cardamom, vanilla, hazelnut, and caramel can all be added to Turkish coffee, though by far the most common additive is mastic.
Turkish coffee has a distinct aroma, taste, foam, aroma, and cooking method. All this was put in place to fit a specific Turkish coffee tradition.
Some describe the coffee as rustic or musky. It's often full-bodied and rich in taste. Turkish coffee should have a smooth quality and retains much of its flavor when diluted.
It would be a good idea to use a Yemeni bean arabica to get the full depth of flavor when brewing Turkish coffee.
You can also use African-based arabica beans. African coffee beans have some of the world's most distinct flavors, with specialty coffee from Africa popular for its punchy fruity, and floral notes.
Drink Turkish coffee like in Istanbul
You may not have sand to cook your coffee with, but you can most definitely use your stove to enjoy a delicious cup of Turkish coffee.
If you are wondering how to use Turkish coffee pot, here’s a short step-by-step guide:
- First, pour your first pour halfway into two coffee pots.
- Next, fill the first serving with no sugar and bring the second pour to a boil.
- Lastly, stir in the sugar and bring it to a boil before topping off the second serving.
Don’t forget to serve it with a small sweet morsel on the side, or enjoy Turkish delight coffee partnership.
While you wait for the coffee to cool slightly and the grounds to settle to the bottom of the cup, sip some water to cleanse your palate. This is rather a special preparation, so why not call some friends over?
Then you can make memories over a tiny cup of coffee the way it should be. 😉 You might even try out some Turkish coffee fortune-telling!