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Everything To Know About Coffee, Turkish Coffee And Culture

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We don’t know who actually discovered coffee as a beverage. But there are so many rumors about it. The first legend about coffee which started to its journey around the world 14th century, is about a goatherd called Khaldi in Yemen. One day, he notices that his goats sluggish under sun, become energetic after eating the fruits of a tree. Surprised with that miracle, Khaldi boils the fruits and drinks it. Later on, his energy increases and heart beatings start accelerate. In this way, he becomes the explorer of this taste which will influence the whole world. According to another rumor, The Prophet Suleiman witnesses sick people in a city that he visited.

Following the decree of the Angel of Gabriel, he roasts the coffee beans coming from Yemen and gives it to the sicks to drink and cures them. The first man who had a sip of this taste, should have taken a great joy. However, he probably didn’t think that he would start a habit which would spread all over the world, after centuries. Although they say “coffee comes from Yemen”, but in fact, its origin indeed is Ethiopia.

The origin of coffee

Meanwhile who makes less than $10 a day? Of course, coffee laborers who has lived in Ethiopia. Are you ready to hear the truth? There is something very important you have to know. It is our duty to say this to you. We’re telling you that the fact lies behind what you have been seeing. That’s why you should understand reactions about laborers. The fact lies behind what you see. They each earn five dollars a day and still earn that much. Many laborers are effectively enslaved in coffee industries.

Coffee laborers

Anyway. Evergreen coffee tree can be planted in every tropical region. Its flowers look like jasmine and have wonderful scent. Coffee tree is a delicate shrub. It cannot survive if the temperature is below +5. Its leaves are always green and bright and its fruits look like cherry. Inside the fruit, there are two coffee seeds. When the flowers are shed, fruits are left on the trees. After threshed with wooden pestles and the shells are peeled, the core fruit comes out. They are roasted and ground and coffee is ready to be brewed. Aromatic and delicious coffee is the product of a long term labor and coffee has 70 different types.

Coffee tree

The coffee known as “Turkish coffee” comes from Brazil. Today, the coffee, which has been the last cultural present of East to the West besides architecture, maths, medicine, spices and gunpowder, is the second biggest item of world trade, after petroleum. It is not only a beverage that gives joy but it is an economical commodity. It is planted at over 70 countries along the Equator. 25 million people all over the world, earn money in the fields of planting, processing, transporting and marketing the coffee. The coffee, of which thousands of books and articles are written about, is a culture all by itself. But, the mystery of this tiny bean cannot be solved yet. Because the composition of the coffee containing hundreds of volatile materials can hardly be clarified.

Arabians were the first people who managed to roast coffee bean and consume it as a beverage. The origin of the word coffee is Arabic “Qahwah” which means the beverage that gives joy is changed as “Kahve” in Turkish language and “Cafe” and “Coffee” in European languages. When we look at the journey of the coffee, we see that its first stop after Ethiopia is, Yemen. Its spread through the inner parts of Arabian Peninsula was realized by means of Sufi path in 1450s. They drank coffee, during their evening meetings in order to endure the tiresome “dhikr ceremonies”. After a short while, coffee is known in Mecca and Medina. Then, following the Red Sea trade road, it reaches to Nile Valley. Then, next stop is Cairo.

We can say that, this strong habit became widespread first within the Ottoman territories. Because, Egypt and Hedjaz that determine the geography of this new passion were under the dominance of Ottoman Empire. Writings of Abdulkadir el-Ceziri about that period, also explain the journey of the coffee. Of course, during this journey demitasse cups accompany. The first demitasse cups in Anatolia were made from wood. The form of this cup creates an example for today’s fine porcelain demitasse cups. This coffee pot called “cezve”, being one of the first pots used in Anatolia reflects the taste of that time.

Turkish Coffee
A cup of Turkish coffee and drink water togetger.

The first Ottomans who met with the magic world of coffee were the pilgrims going to Hedjaz, for pilgrimage. The coffee initially aroused some controversy in the Muslim world. But eventually, it was stated to be permissible and men and women able to drink it. So, coffee trade grew just like an avalanche and became a field of work by which more and more people earn money. Now then, people were able to buy and sell coffee freely. In other words, it turned into a consumer good. It is weird that, although it was discovered by the dervishes who lived a life refusing the world’s blessings, people who helped its spread all over the world were the tradesman who adored those blessings.

Soon, the gears of economy in Egypt started to turn only by means of coffee trade. People in Istanbul met this unique taste, in 1550s. 450 years ago, Özdemir Pasha the governor of Yemen during the period of Suleiman the Magnificent, brought coffee to the Palace. The coffee which has been spread all over Ottoman Empire, got whole Europe under its influence. The first written source about coffee in Europe belongs to an Italian botanist, Alpino and it was written in 1592. However, it is Turkish people who introduces coffee to Europe. Wherever the Ottoman flag went, the kitchen carts loaded with coffee followed it.

The first centre where this habitual bound for coffee settled was Venice. The coffeehouses which started to open in 1615, soon spread all over Italy. During that period, coffee trade was under the control of the tradesman from Venice and Marseille. According to another rumor, the high society of Paris discovered Turkish coffee by means of witty Ottoman legate, Süleyman Agha, in 1669. It was even a privilege to be invited to his house for to drink coffee. Austria, where coffee culture is highly being realized today met coffee in 1683.

The coffee which was thought to be camel feed by the Viennese was saved to be thrown into Danube River by the warning of a traveller named Kolschitzky. The street where the first “Blue Cup” cafe in Vienna was opened, still has the name of the man who introduced coffee to Vienna: Kolschitzky. Also, on one of the buildings in this street, there is a big statue of the traveller. During that period there were some renowned lovers of coffee which became synonyms with Ottoman culture. Beethoven, Mozart, Dumas, Andre Gide, Moliere, Victor Hugo and Honore de Balzac, while writing their works of art, were used to drink Turkish coffee.

Moreover, the renowned composer Bach, composed his coffee cantata after getting inspired from Turkish coffee he always drank with joy. The words of the French statesman Talleyrand might be best to express the joy taken from the coffee: “Black as the devil, hot as the hell, innocent as the angel, sweet as the love.” Yes. This beverage which is compared both with devil and angel, led the opening of the cafes in Europe in a very short time. These cafes soon, became the places where the most excited political discussions take place and built up the bases of the French Revolution.

A coffeehouse

So, Turkish coffee was very famous in Europe. But how was it in Ottomans during the same period? Well, they were abandoned to it. They started to drink coffee in the coffeehouses. Ottoman people who met coffee long before Europe, experienced the coffeehouse culture during the same years. The first coffeehouse in Istanbul was opened between 1554-1555, by two Arabic origin tradesman ‘Hakem’ from Aleppo and ‘Shams’ from Damascus, at the district called Tahtakale. It is not just a coincidence that first coffeehouse was opened at Tahtakale.

Tahtakale which has been the one of the most important trade centres of the city during 16th century, is located just behind The Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. This first coffeehouse, received much interest than the managers expected. Now then, there was a new place to get socialized for the people who went to the mosque for worshiping and home for their private life: The coffeehouse. The students of Madrasah, the bureaucrats who lost their jobs, the tradesman having economical problems and Janissaries complaining about the authority changed the coffeehouses into a gathering place of opposition.

When the male inhabitants of Istanbul began to gather at coffeehouses and involved in chats, “where this country is going to?” the Palace was soon informed about it and the coffee was acquainted with prohibition. The first prohibition applied to the coffeehouses and the coffee was during the period of Murad the Third. The Most strict ones were realized during the period of Murad the Fourth. But none of them could impede the habitual love of coffee and illegal openings of the coffeehouses.

After 1830, it is decided to keep the coffeehouses under continuous control, instead of prohibition. The Ottoman Dynasty also liked this beverage very much. In the Palace, 40 mastered coffeeman used to prepare coffee with special care, for the Sultan and his guests. The service is made by four people in the Palace. First comes the chief with a silver thread towel and another coffeeman holding a tray, on which empty demitasse cups are placed. After him, a third one holding the a special tray and carrying the pitcher filled with brewed coffee and the last and the forth one with an empty tray, are all lined up.

People sit in a coffeehouse
Ottoman people sit in a coffeehouse.

This magical beverage becomes so important within Ottoman culture that, the odalisque in the Imperial Harem start to take brewing lessons. It was nice to drink but it was hard to prepare. The Turkish coffee could only be ready to brew after a long process of roasting, cooling and grinding. Since it has been prepared with a lot of labor, its drinking meant a long ceremony. This ritual in the houses and palaces started with roasting of the coffee beans.

The coffee was roasted in long handled and folding pots and then put into wooden cooling cups. The beans were ground through wooden or metal coffee mills or thrashed in mortars. This is how ‘Mortar Coffee’ gets its name. In big coffee pots, it is left to brew over low heat or braziers. In order to make the boiling coffee darker and well-steeped, it was taken into smaller pots called “mirra”. With this method, the type of coffee we call, dark coffee could be obtained.

Today we have three types of Turkish coffee. Without sugar, medium sugar and sugary but there has been almost forty types of brewing methods before. The man who introduced coffee to Turkish public by roasting and grinding it for the first time in 1871 was, Mehmed Effendi. The shop has been in business for over 130 years at called the Tahmis Street in Istanbul. An inn is also located on that street literally meaning ‘Kurukahve’, ‘Ground coffee’ which was built by the brother of Mehmet Effendi in 1880. The name of the inn is also ‘Kurukahveci’. Now then, people are saved from some troubles like roasting and grinding for to drink coffee.

As we said before, coffee drinking is like a ceremony. And in order to make it more magnificent, different methods have been developed. Pieces of plants like jasmine, amber and carnation placed on the perforated bottom of these silvers cups, provide a nice odor. The demitasse cups are also special in this ritual. In order to make these coffee rituals excellent, countries all over the world kept producing demitasse cups for the Ottoman for centuries. While some of these cups are ornamented like a bride some other are made of fine porcelain like tissue paper…

These cups, each being a work of art, are the best examples of silver and enamel workmanship. The ceramic called Tophane demitasse cup is also very interesting with its form. Beside these crystal demitasse cups, the ones with animal and flower figures are also the products of a fine gusto. It must be something else to drink coffee from these cups with filigree. During that period, demitasse cups were made at the workshops in the district called Iznik and the city called Kütahya in Turkey and the famous porcelain centres in Europe. Later, these cups are produced by European countries for their own markets under the name of Alaturqa. Tools and equipments used starting from the state of bean to brewing and the service have a richness to fullfill a real museum.

The ceramic demitasse cup

Water pitcher made of brass and copper, silver coffee pots filigree envelopes are all work of art that express the Turkish gusto. While these pictorial trays reflecting old Istanbul express the imagination of its master, these beautiful silver trays express the importance given to the service. Service is also very important. Like, you must never forget to bring a glass of water together with the coffee. Unlike the most of the thoughts you have to drink water before coffee for to clean your tongue and make it ready to the delicious taste of coffee. In old times, coffee without sugar was appreciated. So, the saying, “A sip of black coffee is to be remembered for forty years” seems to have a meaning. In order to make the mouth sweet, Turkish delight was served together with the coffee.

Turkish delight and Turkish coffee
As you noticed, Turkish delight was served together with the coffee.

And fortune telling. You know what they say: “Don’t believe in fortune telling but don’t live without it either.” The demitasse cup is turned three times against clockwise direction and a wish is hold. Then the cup is turned up side down. When cold enough, it is opened and comments are made according to the figures formed by the grounds of coffee. This tradition which is especially popular among women is something like the reflection of the curiosity about future, into the coffee grounds. But just like the coffee, fortune telling has become a commercial commodity.

There are some cafes in the city centres where fortune tellers make the same comments over each cup of coffee. Today maybe fortune telling has become a routine. However we still have some traditions where coffee takes the first place. Since it is literally a tool of warm talking, coffee is served to the groom’s family came to ask the young girl’s marriage.

Fortune telling

Brewing needs mastership. First, clean water is measured with the demitasse cup and put into the pot. For each cup, you add two teaspoons of coffee and according to your desire, two teaspoons of sugar. Then stir it over a medium low heat. When it is frothed, pour a little of the foam into each cup and boil the remaining coffee in the pot for one more and pour into the cups. The foam and the intensity of the coffee shows the skill of the future bride.

A well-brewed coffee must be covered with foam and the one with the most foam is given to the guest or to the oldest one. The smell of the roasted coffee, the warmness of the beverage, the scent spreading out from the spices added, create a speechless bound between the guests. Coffee effects our daily life. This is why in Turkish, the meal taken before coffee in the morning is called “Kahvalti” which means “before coffee”. Also, coffee adopts itself to every social environment and special event within the working life conditioned to success. There are different idioms and proverbs proving it.

“Coffee comes from Yemen.”, “A cup of black coffee is to be remember for forty years.”, “Carries a velvet purse and his voice sounding from coffeehouse.” and so many others. For a coffee lovers, coffee is always an excuse for his actions. It is possible to finish a lunch without a Turkish coffee. Or does not each conversation made along with Turkish coffee remain as a sweet memory? Isn’t it indeed the joy of life we feel, when we inhale the smell of coffee?

“…if I say, come this evening and let me offer you; a cup of coffee, with memories boiled in its pot. And with love sparkling in its foam, friendship and grounds inside the cup. A refreshing coffee, much better than this tough. Then let me offer you a poem, with a cup of black coffee, served along… You know, as they caress the flowers of love grown in the same pot. Two Turkish coffee, foamed and medium sugared is prepared in two cups. You know, as they take the first sip, they inhale so deeply the smell of the coffee, and they dance riding on its whirling fumes. You know, they draw a picture of their future over coffee grounds, they read their own dreams, their roads are intersected inside the same cup. Intersection point of love is a place just like this…”

As a result of this, enjoy that coffee!

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