The wonderful taste of Turkish coffee has been bringing people together for centuries. But it’s more than just a cup of coffee; it represents tradition, social interaction and hospitality in Turkish culture.
Today is a celebration of Turkish coffee culture, as it was put on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.
The US capital declared December 5 as World Turkish Coffee Culture Day following an initiative by a Turkish cultural group.
To celebrate the day, a Turkish businessperson and a member of the board of directors of the Turkish Coffee Culture and Research Association Murat Kolbasi has invited everyone to New York City's Times Square to taste the brewed drink on December 5.
“We would like to enable Turkish coffee to be tasted in Times Square by everyone who is in New York on Dec. 5. We did it on a different date previously, but now Dec. 5 is very important for us. This project was developed this year. We are very firmly prepared. I ask every Turkish citizen who goes abroad, even if you don't see Turkish coffee on the menu in a cafe or restaurant, ask for it. Turkish coffee will appear on that menu somehow. This is a national consciousness. In order for us to do this, we must persistently ask for Turkish coffee abroad,” said Kolbasi.
Explaining why Turkish coffee is not as common as espresso, Kolbasi said: “This is about the late start of the electric heating method. The ability of electrical appliances to heat water and make coffee or tea quickly dates back to the 1890s, the first kettle. The first filter coffee machine in the 1920s, espresso in the 1940s. This is also the case in the 2000s. It was very difficult to make Turkish coffee with an electric appliance, outside of the stove, until 2002.”
He adds that Turkish coffee is quite different from machine-oriented coffee.
How is Turkish coffee brewed?
Turkish coffee (or Turk Kahvesi as it is known in Turkish) brewing is one of the oldest coffee making methods still in use.
The freshly roasted beans are ground to a fine powder; then the ground coffee and cold water are added to a cezve - a special small pot with a long handle that is traditionally made of copper.
Since sugar is never added after the coffee is cooked, you have to add sugar into the cezve – two sugar cubes for very sweet, one for medium sweetness, and none if you’re someone who likes it bitter.
It is brewed slowly on a stove to produce the desired foam - Turkish coffee without foam is simply unacceptable.
The coffee is generally served in a small espresso-size cup with a glass of water and something sweet on the side, preferably Turkish Delight.
Another ritual and possibly the most enjoyable part of drinking Turkish coffee comes at the end; fortune-telling by reading the cup.
It is a very popular method of fortune telling in Turkey, where the patterns left by the coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup are used by fortune tellers to read the past and future of the drinker.
Turkish coffee also plays an important role in social occasions like pre-engagement ceremonies where the bride’s family meets the groom’s family.
The groom and his relatives traditionally bring a box of chocolate or Turkish Delight as a gift and it is served with Turkish coffee which is prepared by the bride herself.
The bride adds some salt to the bridegroom's coffee, and he must bear the taste and drink it in full. It symbolises the groom's willingness to endure whatever comes out of his future bride.
Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage List
Turkish coffee’s special preparation, brewing techniques, and its rich communal traditional culture is what makes it worthy of being added into Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
The tradition itself has also been recognised as a symbol of hospitality and friendship, with people sharing their daily concerns with each other over a cup of coffee.
The Turkish Coffee Culture and Research Association was established in 2008 to remind people of the significance of Turkish coffee and applied to UNESCO, Kolbasi said.
He stressed that they are working on making December 5 the World Turkish Coffee Day, saying Turkish coffee deserves a special day just like World Coffee Day which is celebrated on October 1.
"For the first time in history, UNESCO registered a liquid drink as an 'intangible cultural heritage' on December 5, 2013. Greece and Italy objected while this was being done there. Italy said to us: 'You have come with such a file that if we object, you will take the espresso away from us’.'”
"We have assets such as Turkish coffee and Turkish delight that have a Turkish name attached to them and are very well known in the world. The collaboration of any company that has become a brand in the world with the culture in the country where it is located provides significant benefits in terms of perception," said Kolbasi, noting that cultures and brands develop hand in hand.
He added that according to their research, Turkish coffee comprises 10 percent of the total global consumption of coffee.
Noting that no one should give up other coffees but give the Turkish coffee the place it deserves, Kolbasi said that Turkish coffee has a history dating back 600 years.
A brief history of Turkish coffee
Turkish coffee culture goes back to the Ottoman era in the 16th century when coffee was first served at coffeehouses in Istanbul. But there are two different stories of how coffee first entered the city, with little evidence to conclusively prove which story is more valid.
First is one of the Ottoman ruler of Yemen, Ozdemir Pasha, who discovered the new beverage in his region. He had brought it to the attention of the Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent.
The Sultan’s staff tried to find a new method to brew the drink - the method we still use today. It immediately became popular in the palace and started to penetrate Turkish history and culture from there.
It started to be consumed first in the mansions of the elite, then by the masses and eventually by the whole Ottoman Empire.
The second one is that the coffee was introduced to the Ottoman Empire by two Syrian traders from Damascus, who wanted to trade coffee from Syria to the Ottoman Empire.
The two traders had opened a coffeeshop in the empire to serve the drink.
Then it was heard by the palace and entered into it during the period of Suleiman the Magnificent, and it was called the ‘Black Drink’.