Anyone who’s ever tried to go to work without coffee knows that it’s basically the drink of the gods.
In fact, plenty of famous men have changed the world with a little help from coffee.
But have you ever really experienced coffee if you’ve never tasted Turkish coffee? We don’t think so. Here, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about this magical drink from where it comes from to how it’s different from your average cuppa joe to how to make Turkish coffee.
What is Turkish Coffee?
First things first: what is Turkish coffee?
Turkish coffee isn’t actually a type of coffee, but rather a method of preparing coffee found in the Middle East, the Balkans, North Africa, and the Caucasus.
Drip Coffee vs Espresso vs Turkish
To understand how Turkish coffee works, it’s helpful to understand the differences between Turkish coffee and other types of coffee you’re more familiar with.
First, there’s drip coffee, which is found in most corner coffee shops the world over. That’s because it’s probably the easiest type of coffee to make–just take ground coffee and a paper filter and allow water to drip through. The filter will catch the grounds and extra oils without affecting caffeine content.
The next step up is espresso, which is brewed by pushing hot (not boiling) water through coffee grounds at high pressure to extract caffeine and natural oils, giving espresso its signature richness and strength.
Finally, there’s Turkish coffee, which uses powdery ground coffee, sugar, and water brought to a near-boil three times and then poured without filtering the coffee. This gives a rich, thick coffee that aficionados love.
A Brief History of Turkish Coffee
But before we show you how to make this delicious drink at home, it’s important to understand a few things about the history and development of Turkish coffee.
So when you raise your cup to your lips each morning, you’re taking a little sip of history.
The Discovery of Coffee in Ethiopia
Our story doesn’t actually start in Turkey, though–it starts in Ethiopia, where coffee was first discovered.
As legend has it, a goat herder named Kaldi discovered coffee when he realized that his goats didn’t want to sleep at night after eating berries from a certain tree.
When Kaldi told the abbot of a local monastery about his findings, the abbot made a drink of the berries and found that they helped him stay alert through evening prayers.
And thus, coffee was born.
Coffee Comes to Turkey
Coffee spread through the Arabian peninsula and into Yemen, where it was drunk for 300 years using the original recipe from Ethiopia.
Coffee didn’t make its way to Turkey until 1555 during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The Ottoman Governor of Yemen, Ozdemir Pasha, fell in love with the drink while stationed in Yemen.
It was in the sultan’s palace that a new method of brewing coffee was discovered: roasting the beans over a fire before grinding them and slowly cooking them with water over the ashes of a charcoal fire.
The World’s First Coffee House
With this new method (the predecessor to modern Turkish coffee) coffee became a staple of Turkish life and spread even further abroad.
In the palace, the sultan created the position of kahveciba, or Chief Coffee Maker, who was responsible for brewing the sultan’s coffee (and was specially selected for his ability to keep secrets).
However, the first recorded public space for serving coffee, Kiva Han, opened in 1475 in the Ottoman city of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). These coffee houses, called qahveh kaneh, became a central location for drinking coffee, listening to music, playing chess, and keeping abreast of current news.
In fact, coffee was such an important item during this period that it was legal for a woman to divorce her husband if he could not provide her with enough coffee.
The rest of the world didn’t get their first sip of coffee until 1615 when Venetian merchants who fell in love with the drink started serving it.
Don’t Call It Turkish Coffee
These days, though, if you call it Turkish coffee in the wrong place, you’re going to get some irritated replies.
A century after Suleiman the Magnificent brought coffee to the forefront of popular culture, Sultan Murad IV outlawed coffee and beheaded those who drank it (he feared that individuals talking politics in coffee shops were plotting to overthrow him).
The coffee won out, obviously, but ordering Turkish coffee in certain Balkan or Mediterranean countries doesn’t go over very well.
In Armenia, where the Ottomans led a genocide against one million people between 1915 and 1923, it’s called Armenian coffee. In Bosnia, it’s called Bosanska kafa (Bosnian coffee). In Cyprus (invaded by the Turks in 1974) it’s called kypriakos kafe (Cypriot coffee), and in Greece, it’s called elliniko.
It all has to do with nationalism and anti-Turkish sentiment.
What You Need to Make the Coffee
Now that you know what goes into the velvety goodness that is Turkish coffee, let’s talk about what you need to make Turkish coffee.
Turkish Coffee Grinder
Out of all the essential items, you absolutely cannot neglect to buy a quality Turkish coffee grinder.
While the modern coffee drinker is usually content with pre-ground coffee, that’s just not going to cut it for Turkish coffee.
It’s not a snobbishness thing, either. Because Turkish coffee isn’t filtered, you’re going to wind up drinking the coffee grounds. And if your ground isn’t superfine (think powdered sugar) you’re going to wind up with a grainy coffee instead of the delicious velvety richness of good Turkish coffee.
Click here for our review of Burr grinders, or do your homework on a proper Turkish coffee grinder.
Turkish Coffee Pot
Next, you need a Turkish coffee pot, or cezve, which is just as essential to the Turkish coffee experience as a grinder.
It’s a small metal pot with a wide base and a narrow top, with a spout and a long handle for pouring.
Traditional cezves are made of copper, a popular choice for gourmet cooks the world over for the heat-conducting properties of the metal. This is especially important for Turkish coffee, as the temperature of the metal changes quickly and Turkish coffee tends to brew fast.
Plus, these pots are beautiful little pieces crafted with careful attention to detail.
Turkish Coffee Cups
Turkish coffee cups, or fincan, are essential to the proper enjoyment of Turkish coffee.
There are a few reasons for this. First, traditional fincan are more like espresso cups than the giant mugs of coffee you’re used to–because Turkish coffee is so thick, it’s customary to only drink one cup.
Second, Turkish coffee has a few particular qualities that demand a specific drinking vessel. Because of how it’s made, Turkish coffee is hotter than espresso (almost boiling), and unlike espresso, Turkish coffee is meant to be enjoyed slowly over a long period.
As such, you need a small coffee cup with the correct porcelain thickness to ensure the coffee stays warm over an extended period.
The most common variety of fincan is the demitasse cup, though there’s also the handleless mirra or gawa cups and the so-called Ottoman filigreed metal holders with a cup set inside them.
Turkish Coffee Set
Of course, if you want the full Turkish coffee experience, it’s worthwhile to invest in a full Turkish coffee set.
The standard set includes the demitasse cups, saucers, and accompanying tray. Extras would include the Turkish coffee pot, a water glass holder (Turkish coffee is always served with a glass of water to cleanse the palate), or a candy bowl (Turkish delights are common, though some people serve chocolate).
These usually come as a set of six, and are usually made of metal and/or porcelain.
How to Make Turkish Coffee
Now that you have all the basic tools and background knowledge, are you ready to make your own Turkish coffee?
Before we dive into it, let’s make one thing clear: ignore any recipe that says to boil the coffee. Your coffee should never, ever boil if your goal is to create Turkish coffee.
The Best Roast
First is the beans.
You don’t need high-grade coffee beans like Kona or Blue Mountain–it’s mostly a matter of personal taste.
There are a lot of factors, from the utensils used to the heat control, that influence the final taste of Turkish coffee. That said, most Turkish coffee manufacturers use a secret blend of Arabica and Robusta beans.
But if you have no idea what that means, don’t worry about it too much. Stick to medium roast coffee beans, and don’t spend a fortune on rare coffee beans–most of them are best suited to a French press or drip coffee anyway.
Most Turkish manufacturers use Brazilian Santos beans, though some include Ethiopian Sidamo beans. Keep an eye out for these and you’ll be good to go (or just look for Turkish coffee).
Grinding the Coffee
Next comes the grinding.
Full disclosure: you are well within your rights to grind your coffee yourself.
That said, Turkish coffee requires an extremely fine coffee ground. If you don’t have time to get your beans to a powdery consistency, don’t bother. And if you have a grinder that doesn’t have a Turkish coffee setting, you should still buy pre-ground coffee.
The good news is that you can find Turkish coffee in most Middle Eastern or Mediterranean supermarkets. Kurukaveci Mehmet Efendi is one of the most popular brands of Turkish coffee, and you can generally trust them to give you a good coffee ground.
You’ll also need three other ingredients for Turkish coffee:
- Filtered water
- A sweetener
For a sweetener, table sugar is usually your best choice, since it doesn’t have an overwhelming flavor of its own. You can use honey as an alternative, especially a more robust variety of honey.
Whatever you do, don’t use maple syrup–it tends to make the coffee taste oddly medicinal and grassy.
As far as spices, cardamom is the go-to for Turkish coffee, though spices vary depending on where you are. Berbers, for example, use coriander, and parts of North Africa use cinnamon, clove, anise, nutmeg, or any combination thereof.
Preparing the Coffee
Now, at last, the fun part: preparing your Turkish coffee!
For each cup of coffee (measure using the serving cups, not an actual measuring cup) use about 1.5 cups of water per coffee cup. Place your pot of water on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high, just until the water heats up.
Then, for each individual serving, use a heaping tablespoon of coffee in the cezve. Don’t stir it yet, just let it float on the surface (otherwise, you may cause it to clump).
If you or your guest wants a sweetener or spices, add it. When the coffee sinks to the bottom and the water is warm enough to dissolve the sugar, stir until your brew is foamy.
Keep in mind that your coffee should NEVER reach boiling temperature. The goal here is to get a thick froth on the surface, which occurs at 158 F, well below the boiling temperature (at boiling temperature, the froth dissolves). When in doubt, use a thermometer.
Watch the coffee like a hawk. Keep it at the foaming stage as long as you can without a boil (usually no more than three to four minutes). If your coffee gets too hot and starts to rise, move it off the heat or just turn it down. Many recipes say to do this three or four times, but once is enough.
Transfer some of the foam into each of the coffee cups, and as the coffee reaches the “boiling” stage, pour the coffee over the foam carefully (you want to preserve the foam on top).
Serving Turkish Coffee
Serving Turkish coffee actually begins before you brew the coffee.
In Turkey, guests aren’t asked if they want coffee, they’re asked how they would like it prepared. Specifically, the host wants to know your sweetness preference. To answer the question, say one of the following:
- Sade (no sugar)
- Az seker (very little sugar)
- Orta (one to two teaspoons of sugar)
- Sekerli (three to four teaspoons of sugar)
The person brewing the coffee is responsible for remembering and preparing accordingly (in Turkey, it’s usually the youngest girl in the house).
Turkish coffee is always served with a glass of water to cleanse the palate beforehand. Most people also serve it with a small sweet like Turkish delights, chocolate, or some other small candy.
When serving to guests, you should always start with the eldest guest in the room, since it’s considered disrespectful not to do so. It’s customary to only drink one cup, and Turkish people generally don’t add milk or cream.
More About Everyone’s Favorite Drink
You know how to make Turkish coffee. Now comes the most important step: brewing it to share with friends and family!
If you want more coffee goodness, check out our blog for more tips and tricks on everyone’s favorite drink.