Ever since the very first day I arrived in America, whenever someone inquired as to where I am from and upon hearing my response; their first reaction has always been “I love Turkish Coffee.” Oddly enough, being an avid tea drinker, I had little experience with Turkish coffee when I lived in Istanbul other than on the occasions when my mother took me along for her never ending fund-raising activities for the local orphanages. In order to raise funds, she would engage in “fortune telling” whereby she would “read” peoples fortunes by looking at the sediments left on the bottoms and inside surfaces of the special Turkish coffee cups. I remember with the fondest memories my mother telling the person she had never seen or met before, sitting across from her anxiously awaiting to hear what the future would bring to them! My mother in soft and mysterious tones would tell this person who had just placed a $ 10.00 bill into a small jar that they would be “going away on a wonderful trip within two days, two weeks or two months to a strange location somewhere in the West” or predicting a “not so distant wedding” for a lonely middle aged lady. Further and more detailed information always required additional funds being deposited into the jar. How she did what she did still remains a mystery to me to this day; but with this activity she was somehow able to raise large amounts of cash for her beloved orphanages.
I became more aware of coffee and its mysterious qualities and power after my arrival in the USA. Going through college I watched my classmates keep themselves awake with cups and cups of coffee the night before finals; or see teachers rushing to their first morning classes with a paper cup filled with coffee in their hands. After graduating and entering the corporate world in New York and Cleveland, I started to enjoy a cup or two of freshly brewed coffee in the morning to stay awake during boring meetings.
It was during my military service in Turkey in the early 1970’s that I started to drink Turkish coffee with my fellow officers, almost four to five demitasse cups a day. When the proprietor of the coffee house near the military base called “Brazilian Coffee” was occasionally latein serving the first cups of Turkish coffee in the early morning hours my fellow Turkish officers would ask him if the coffee was being brewed in Yemen! I was very curious and wanted to find out why a Turkish coffee house was named “Brazil” and why would the coffee come from Yemen? This is where I got educated about the history of Turkish coffee and finally learned how to brew it; and most importantly, how to properly drink it.
“Starbucks and Latte” generation of today may believe that the history of coffee goes back about 300 or so years. However, some coffee historians (yes, there are such people!) believe that coffee is as old as man. Ethiopia in Africa is where some of the earliest human fossils have been discovered. It also happens to be the same place where the coffee beans were first harvested from wild coffee beans. According to historians, the name “coffee” is believed not to come from its country of origin where it is known as “Kaffa” but actually from the Arabic world where it is known as “qahwa.” The word “coffee” may also have been derived from the Turkish word “kahve” which is also the Turkish name for the color “brown.”
It is generally believed that Istanbul was introduced to coffee in 1517 by Ozdemir Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of Yemen, who had grown to love the drink while stationed in that country. Yemen was the largest coffee growing area in the world and at the time was being ruled by the Ottomans. During his service in the Ottoman palace in Istanbul, Ozdemir Pasha developed a new method of preparing Turkish coffee; the coffee beans were roasted over a fire, ground to a powder using a hand cranked grinder and then the powder was boiled in water. With its new brewing method and delicious aroma, coffee’s popularity soon spread. Coffee houses started to pop up everywhere in Istanbul where men gathered daily to play backgammon and discuss politics, literature and poetry. As a result of merchants traveling through Istanbul on their way to Europe and with various ambassadors returning back to their countries after serving their terms in Istanbul, Turkish coffee started to be popular in Europe.
Soon, coffee became a vital part of the palace cuisine and was very popular in court. A new positionwas added to the list of court functionaries; Kahvecibasi (position of Chief Coffee Maker). His only duty was to brew the Sultan’s coffee, and he was chosen for his loyalty and ability to keep secrets.
In 1615, Venetian merchants who experienced the drink in Istanbul carried it back to Venice with them. The first coffee house was opened in Italy around 1645. Soon, coffee houses popped up all over the country turning into gathering places for people from all classes and walks of life. In 1669 a new Turkish ambassador was appointed to Paris and along with his belongings, he took with him two sacks of coffee. Soon, Paris high society was enjoying cups of Turkish coffee.
In 1683 when the Ottoman Turks gave up and were retreating from the gates of Vienna for the second and final time, they left behind 500 sacks of coffee. A man named Kolschitzky who had lived among the Turks for many years and may have served as a spy for the Austrians during the siege, requested the sacks of coffee, with which he was very familiar as payment for his successful espionage services. He brewed and served small cups of Turkish coffee to the Viennese going door to door. Viennese enjoyed drinking their new coffee brew with special cakes called “kipfel” or what we now know by its French name as the “croissant” which was shaped to look like the crescent moon of the Turkish flag. The Austrians thus created the “croissant” to celebrate the retreat of the Ottoman Turkish Army from Vienna and enjoyed it with a cup of Turkish coffee.
From Europe coffee traveled to the Caribbean and to Brazil where it was harvested in very large quantities and exported worldwide.
Coffee finally made it to America during 1669 when a coffee house named “The King’s Arms” opened in New York. By the mid 19th century, coffee had become one of the most important commodities in world trade.
Today, Americans drink more coffee than any other nation in the world. Obviously, what you drink in the local coffee shops around here is not Turkish coffee. It may not even come from Yemen. Turkish coffee is not just a hearty brew; it represents a whole different coffee culture; from roasting it to grinding it to brewing it to slurping it with extreme pleasure in the company of your friends.