Turkish Coffee, How It Began
Turkish coffee is not a kind of coffee; it is a particular method of preparing coffee. Some people call it boiled coffee. It is the most popular way to consume coffee in most Arabic countries.
Using a mortar or a burr mill (hand grinder) the coffee beans are ground very finely to the consistency of powdered sugar. Depending on the preference of the drinker sugar can be added. Before this became the normal practice, no sugar was added. If a guest had a problem with the bitter taste, they were offered a sweet (candy) with their coffee to offset the taste. The sweets are called Turkish Delights.
Usually the Turkish coffee is served with a small glass of water. The brew is so strong and you consume so much of the actual coffee grind particles; that you may need to clear the palate between sips.
The water is measured and added to the coffee and sugar in the ibriki (bell shaped pot). The coffee and sugar is stirred in the water. The coffee is heated on a medium setting, slowly bringing it to a boil. This is a skill. Bringing the coffee to a boil too fast will give it a burned taste. When the coffee has begun to boil it is removed from the heat for a few minutes. It is not re-stirred. It is brought to a boil a second time, then removed again and then brought to a boil the third time. Note that the coffee remains settled at the bottom of the pot and the sugar is cooked in the brew. Boiling the coffee too long destroys the flavor as does boiling it too fast. Keeping the coffee boiling even 20 seconds past the boiling point destroys the foam.
By only stirring the coffee, water and sugar once; it allows nice foam to cook at the top of the coffee. The foam is a desirable part of the coffee drinking experience. Pouring the Turkish coffee is considered an art also. The trick to getting the same amount of foam on each cup is in the pouring. An experienced coffee server knows how high to pour the coffee and how fast to pour to get close to the same amount of foam on each coffee serving.
There are several stories about how Turkish coffee began. One thing for certain, Turkish coffee has been around since the 16th century. Coffee was first prepared for the elite in the late 1500’s then to the public. It was considered very valuable and held in high regard. In fact, a man not taking care of his wife’s daily coffee needs was one of the few grounds a woman had for divorce.
Turkish coffee was presented to King Louis XIV as a gift from Sultan Mehmet IV in 1657. This is how Turkish coffee became known to the French. In 1683 Turkish troops were in a battle with Austria and they happened to leave some bags of coffee behind. The Austrians took the Turkish coffee and made their own blend of coffee. By now coffee was a very important commodity. Historic records show that before 1700, coffee was being traded with a value equal to that of wheat.
For many years, Turkish coffee was “Turkish” coffee. But political unrest and issues caused many Eastern Mediterranean countries to disassociate with anything Turkish. They did not give up the drink or change the way it was prepared but often, they did change the name. Instead of Turkish coffee you may be offered Bosnian Coffee or Cypriot coffee. It is the same coffee using a different name.
There is a skill involved in actually drinking a cup of Turkish coffee. Besides the strong and bitter taste, the grounds are never filtered. Though they settle to the bottom of the cup, you will still see tiny pieces floating around if you are too aggressive when you utilize the cup. The trick is to sip the coffee without disturbing the coffee “mud” at the bottom.
Even when you finish your Turkish coffee, there is more fun to be had. The Turks believe the grounds from your coffee can be read to tell your future. The coffee is consumed and then the cup is inverted onto a saucer. The grounds are given to the fortune teller who looks for signs in the grounds and tells you what they mean. The tradition of reading coffee grounds is usually passed down from generation to generation. Here are some examples:
If they see a shape of a purse, you will receive money. If they see the shape of a ribbon, look for a happy event. A butterfly means you have confusion in a relationship and should end it. The list goes on and on but it takes a fortune teller to read them, so they believe.
Various flavors are sometimes added to the Turkish coffee such as cloves, nutmeg, and spices. These differ depending on the part of the world in which one lives.
Turkish coffee is a very important part of their culture. It is offered to families celebrating an upcoming union of marriage. Young women will sometimes add salt to the coffee of their soon to be husband to test his temperament.
Though Turkish coffee is not as popular in the western world, there are some places that serve it and prepare it the traditional way. It is well worth your time to give it a try.