5 Simple (Yet Little Known) Rules to Enjoy Turkish Coffee

Where to eat in Istanbul

Turkish coffee is majorly misunderstood, I find. No, there is no such thing as Turkish coffee beans – they have never been grown in this country. No, you don’t add milk to your Turkish coffee. And no, that muddy beverage you had somewhere else is not a typical Turkish coffee. I have already put my 5 cents into the cause of educating people about Turkish coffee by providing a useful list of places where one can go for a decent cup in Istanbul. But even the right cup of coffee can be treated wrong way so today I’d like to share a few tips that will help you enjoy Turkish coffee the way locals do.

Turkish Coffee by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

1. Choose the right occasion: after the meal

Older days it was common in Turkey to have coffee in the morning: Özgür’s grandma recalls how as a young bride she was serving a few cups to her in-laws. As a hint to that old tradition exists the Turkish word for breakfast kahvalti that means “coming after coffee”. Times change and nowadays Turks get in shock at the sight of foreigners looking for coffee first thing in the morning. For them – and here they very much agree with Italians and French – beverage like Turkish coffee is a wonderful way to sum up a meal not to start one.

After a long breakfast, a brief lunch and definitely after a proper dinner a cup of Turkish coffee will be enjoyed with pleasure and if you dine outside it is even offered to you on the house. There is a great logic to that: it helps you carry on with your day without falling into the sleepy mode after a substantial meal and then there is a convincing scientific proof that coffee aids digestion.

2. A little cup goes a long way

Cup of Turkish coffee is rather small. You’d probably say – tiny if you are  living in the Northern America. 1/3 or 1/4 of your regular measurement cup. Yet unlike Italian espresso which you can knock down almost on the go Turkish coffee assumes a no rush indulgence. And a good conversation. And you will see how a small cup can last for a while (by the way, be gentle to your heart and don’t try to go for double: Turkish custom is to have a cup of tea after coffee if you absolutely must).

5 centuries of Turkish coffee tradition have resulted in the ways to prepare and serve coffee which ensure it does not go cold too soon and you can enjoy it longer. First, Turkish coffee comes with a thick foam on top which seals it so the coffee keeps its temperature – a good coffee maker (or a smart Arçelic machine) is easy to spot by the thickness of that foam. Second, the grind of Turkish coffee is very fine and some of the coffee grounds will be mixed with water making the coffee thicker and the heat staying longer. Finally, the coffee grounds at the bottom provide additional padding and keep coffee hot for longer period of time. In addition in some places they’d serve your Turkish coffee by hiding a little porcelain cup in the beautiful copper case to protect it from cooling down way too soon.

3. Sugar upfront and no more sugar

When ordering Turkish coffee you need to make an important decision upfront: how sweet you’d like your coffee to be. The options are four: no sugar (sade), little sugar (az şekerli), semi-sweet (orta şekerli) and sweet (şekerli). The reason you are asked about it with all seriousness is that coffee powder, sugar and cold water are mixed before they get simmered together. Because of the thick layer of coffee grounds at the bottom you can’t really stir coffee after it is being poured into your cup and hence no sugar will go in afterwards.

I’d say that more often than not travelers to Istanbul overestimate the need for sugar in Turkish coffee. Many hope to balance the strong coffee flavour with sugar but it does not quite work like that. And you know what’s worst? You will see a piece of Turkish delight typically arriving with your Turkish coffee and you start regretting ordering your cup so sweet. So go for coffee rather than sugar.

4. Take it slow

Conversation.. did I say conversation before? Yes, and I repeat it again. Don’t rush your Turkish coffee drinking. After your order seat back and as your foamy cup of Turkish coffee arrives let it cool down just a bit. You don’t want to spoil the whole experience but burning your mouth. That little pause will help the grounds settle too. Then take a first tiny sip – and sit back to register the sensations. First will be the bitterness – it is ultra-fine ground of Turkish coffee which releases the bitter notes in it. But with the next sip comes more sensations – the spice, the chocolate.

Now look around: many locals are savoring their coffee as they smoke and chat. Those two ladies speaking about big emotions in low voice, that young couple absorbed into the little world of them two, that regular who chats with the coffee shop owner – they all are here for great coffee as much as for a good conversation as both go together in Turkey.

5. Know where to stop: coffee grounds are for fortune telling

I have to disappoint you at this point but then I promise I have a cheerful news for you in my sleeve: 1/3 of that tiny cup of Turkish coffee are the grounds which you will not be able to drink. Depending on how your coffee was poured it can be more or less than a third but you can easily see when your coffee thickens as you approach the bottom. Don’t drink those grounds – earthy and rather unpleasant. Better have a glass of water which was served with the coffee to cleanse your palate. And get ready for more.

Some would say leaving so much coffee grounds is a waste. What if I tell you it is a superb material for fortune telling? Invert your cup and place it on the saucer, let it cool down and most of the coffee grounds slide onto the saucer – those remaining form patters than become instrumental in learning your fortune. That way even when coffee is finished you can still continue the conversation. However, be considerate: you will get looks if you go into the fortune telling at a busy place with a line of people waiting outside to get seated. But then you know it’s a perfect thing to do late morning or early afternoon at one of Istanbul’s tea gardens. And that is a certain reason to have a cup of Turkish coffee.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Magalí January 13, 2013, 7:35 pm

    Hi Olga! I really love your blog. It’s amazing discover this special culture in this way! I’m a housesitting traveler around the world and Istanbul is my nex destination. Happy to taste all this flavours!

    • Chasi K. February 18, 2016, 5:36 pm

      Love the article!! I have a good friend that is from Iraq and she gave me my very first cup of Turkish coffee couple years ago and it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever drank and being that I’m extremely sensitive to coffee and get sweats, nauseous, vomit, shakes and headache all from coffee, EXCEPT FOR TURKISH COFFEE!!!
      I’d the only one besides small amount of espresso

  • Amnos Adikos January 12, 2014, 4:57 am

    I personally like the taste of the grounds at the bottom of the cup.

    I enjoy that earthy coffee-mud taste, but just with the last bit of coffee I finally drink and don’t scoop it out or anything, of course.

    – Egyptian Coffee Lover

  • Tomo April 21, 2014, 5:30 am

    This is a really good article, probably the best and most accurately deep read on Turkish coffee you’ll find. Most of the things are right; don’t have it to sweet, don’t drink the bottom, enjoy it slowly for the wonder that it is, and for the sake of your wellbeing never attempt to put sugar in after it’s already been made.

    The thing with Turkish coffee is that it’s such a delicate, and personal thing. You’ll find that a lot of people and nations have their own ways of drinking and preparing it. It’s an endless world of possibilities.

  • Arabiano September 22, 2014, 3:55 pm

    I’ve been to Arabic countries, I’ve been to Turkey last year and it was awesome holiday. Great weather, very kind and friendly people, good food. And of course. Very distinctive coffee – coffee of their own – Turkish coffee. You don’t get the REAL one elsewhere than in Turkish coffee shop. If you are advanced coffee drinker and you enjoy it raw (strong and black) than you have to try one. Try Turkish coffee! Have a good day You all!

  • Leyla January 4, 2015, 2:25 pm

    Dear Olga, thank you for the wonderful blog I’ve just discovered. Wonderful recipes bringing back many good memories… But I was surprised to read that milk is never added to Turkish coffee – in Central Anatolia, with its cold winters, Turkish coffee in winter is often made with milk. It is called sutlu turk kahvesi, and it is delicious. But I have to admit that I never had it in cafes or restaurants, only in people’s homes, so it may be a an informal, ‘home way’…

    looking forward to discovering more of your blog!

  • Dincer May 9, 2015, 4:16 pm

    Nice one.
    Just one small ‘correction’ if I may: turkish coffee is traditionally served with a glass of water (rather small glass, 50-100 ml) and one is supposed to drink it before drinking the coffee – to clenase the remaining tastes of the meal; never after the coffee. Drinking water after the coffee takes the coffee taste away from your mouth and is rather frowned upon – can even be slightly rude to the one who prepared the drink suggesting a bad taste.
    At least that is how I was raised.

  • John Smith February 18, 2016, 1:54 pm

    I’m so pleased that I came across your post on 5 simple rules to enjoy Turkish coffee. This post came as an awesome treat to me being a coffee fanatic. Thanks for the share!

    • Olga Tikhonova Irez February 23, 2016, 7:23 pm

      Happy if that was useful, John


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