Istanbul coffee shops and Turkish coffee culture are both such a paradox. How could the city where the coffee shops have existed for over the half of the millennium start favoring Starbucks and its local copy-cats? How could the tradition of the Turkish coffee served in the tiny gracious cups could be traded for the mugs of Nescafe? Luckily, there is still a handful of Istanbul coffee shops to indulge the nostalgia, authentic ambiance and a good cup of coffee.
By nostalgia I don’t mean the new Istanbul style of putting together an appealing place: kitsch chandeliers with crystal imitations, whitewashed walls, Ottoman-inspired name and chatty waiters who with equal willingness will fix you a mojito or coffee. Just like a new cafe recently opened at the Kadıköy market that cheerfully started with Turkish coffee prepared on the charcoal and the last time I passed I saw colorful posters with as cheerful pizza and pasta gracing the menu. Fortunately there is still room for nostalgia .. elsewhere.
Fazıl Bey: Best Turkish Coffee in Istanbul
I have lost the count of the coffee snobs from around the world I have introduced to this place and its coffee, freshly roasted and ground at the spot. And all left very impressed with the quality of coffee Fazıl Bey folks serve. For me this is simply the best Turkish coffee in Istanbul: without so-common sourness of Turkish coffee it has a mild chocolate note instead. If you feel adventurous you may order a cup of damla sakızlı – Turkish coffee with mastic, natural pine flavoring agent.
With the old music, rustic wooden furniture probably kept since the opening in 1923 and black and white photos on the walls every time I feel nostalgic and memories of the things that never really happened start popping up. So I get a second cup: wonderfully warming salep in winter and their house mint lemonade in summer. Or a glass of Turkish tea. Fazıl Bey folks make one of the best tea in town. This is real class for an Istanbul coffee shop.
Address: Serasker Cad. No:1/A, Kadıköy Market
Mandabatmaz: Youngsters Vote for Tradition
“The foam so thick that even the buffalo did not sink,” – this is how the Turkish name of the shop can be interpreted. Here they don’t rely on the Mehmed Effendi coffee by which everyone else swears and instead get their beans roasted specially for them.
Mandabatmaz still has a long way to go to the Fazıl Bey level of excellence when it comes to taste but they win on the methodological side: they use old school individual cezve to prepare coffee. No Arçelik coffee machine, no technology to get that thick foam besides the craftsmanship of the coffee maker who sits there and the whole day prepares one cup of coffee after another in cezve.
The ambiance of the place is as much rustic: a bunch of low tables and seat on a quiet lane just off the bustling Istiklal. The crowd is young and numerous: those with least reasons for nostalgia seem to enjoy this nostalgic Istanbul coffee shop most.
Address: İstiklal Cad. Beyoğlu
Karabatak: Ottoman Fantasies Coming Alive
Once there was, once there wasn’t.. The place tacked in between the Christian churches and a whore house in Karaköy could not be more surreal. I wandered around for a while before locating this recent addition to the Istanbul coffee shop scene. Austrian coffee maker Julius Meinl sensed the niche for “nostalgic” coffee shops and following up on the opening of their coffee shops in Dubai and Vienna and thought it was time to make one in Istanbul.
They did well: their Istanbul coffee shop has both the old European grandeur and Ottoman appeal. You feel transported to the early days of the Republic when anything European was more in demand than ever but the Ottoman influences were not completely disregarded. Reflection of tiles with traditional Islamic motives and vintage Julius Meinl posters in the large framed mirrors create great backdrop for the nostalgic indulgence. As for their coffee: if Julius Meinl rings a bell for you be double sure to check out the place.
Address: Kara Ali Kaptan Sokak No 7 Karaköy Necatibey Caddesi
Cafe Without a Name at Çorlulu Alipasa Medresesi: Medieval Istanbul Coffee Shop
This is another “historical” reconstruction of an original Istanbul coffee shop. When those first appeared in Istanbul in 15h century they quickly became popular gathering spots for men: beautifully decorated kiosks with long low divans along the walls they offered Turkish coffee and a water pipe (nargile) to enjoy.
Some smart folks have decided to revive the tradition and opened a cafe without a name at the old Çorluoglu Alipasa Medresesi to offer exactly the same experience. You sit under the domed passageway amidst the stone walls covered with carpets and graced with mosaic lamps. Their water pipe charcoal is red-red and their Turkish coffee boast the foam that would leave many Istanbul coffee shops jealous. Great spot to leave your male companions in a good company as you head out to the scavenger hunt at the Grand Bazaar conveniently located just around the corner.
Address: Bileyciler Sk. Yeniçeriler Cd.
Kahveci Ethem Tezçakar: Old Tastes, New Ways
Revamping does not always mean loosing the nostalgic feel and Kahveci Ethem Tezçakar coffee shop is a good example. Tezçakar family business has been around for over the century (est.1909) and tells its story with the old brick walls and traditional ways of making coffee with cezve and dosing the foam to the cups as they prepare your coffee. They have been using coffee roast by Nuri Toplar that may have been been late on the market (est.1890, 19 years later than Mehmet Effendi) but still keep the tradition of roasting their coffee on wood (not gas or electricity).
Get into the lone table inside the shop or pick one of a few low tables outside and enjoy the coffee and hospitality you normally can’t expect at an Istanbul coffee shop. This contemporary touch is by Bekir Bey, now 4th generation of the family, running the shop with the charm and manners of Istanbul ”beyeffendi‘ (gentlemen) and willingly interacting with the customers coming from all over the world.
Address: Halicilar Sokak No:61-63, Grand Bazaar.