My relationship with coffee is highly seasonal. Its heavy flavor comes counteractive to my idea of staying fresh and hydrated in summer. But as the days get colder I become manic about following up my every single meal – heavier and at times way too comforting – with a sip of dense strong coffee that gives me the feeling of content yet withdraws the need for a nap.
My regular choice is naturally Turkish coffee. I make coffee myself more often that I drink it outside. I have quickly mastered the tricky tricks of brewing it in cezve, a small copper bowl with a long handle. And after practicing daily in winter and tasting many (mostly unfortunate) cups outside – too watery, bowled and gone ashy, made with unpleasant Istanbul tap water – I can tell you a thing or too about good Turkish coffee. And if you really want to know the awful truth here it is: once you know what to do with your cezve brand of Turkish coffee you use does not matter so much. Even Mehmet Effendi works well – listen to me carefully – as long as it ultrafresh (roasted that very day and ground right before brewing).
To ensure that ultrafreshness I have invested in a coffee grinder. Which – besides many cups of Turkish coffee – has also brought back my old likings of Italian espresso and French press. I have been buying my whole beans from .. Starbucks where I was also doing occasional runs for cappuccino (I live right next to one). I know many people who hate Starbucks. If you are one – you must be from New York or California and definitely have never lived in Istanbul. I hear about carts selling good one-dollar coffee are all over New York and roasters like Blue Bottle are getting more and more. Both non-existent in Istanbul. So Starbucks becomes possibly the most reliable source of beans and Western-style coffee. After trying a whole bunch of their roasts I have developed my likings – I am miles away from being a coffee snob but I believe that a palate does not lie.
A few days ago I had a pleasant discovery which probably will make me travel a bit to buy good coffee beans. I will do it over and over again: sip that perfectly done cappuccino with the tender milk fluff and chat with the owner while choosing a pack of freshly roasted beans to take home. It has been a just a year since KronotRop launched its micro roasting business. Something which coffee snobs in other countries may have started taking for granted and it is very much of a novelty here in Istanbul. So much in fact that the whole bar menu and labels are done in English, possibly catering to those already in the know – foreigners living and visiting in Istanbul yet bringing already developed appreciation for artisanal coffee from back home.
However ridiculous until recent there was not much going on the artisanal coffee scene in Istanbul, the city where most local ventures have been artisanal by design. Think family owned business that have become anchors of the Istanbul neighborhood markets – they pass traditions of production, sourcing and trade from generation to generation. For instance in Kadıkoy we have Cafer Erol, Özcan Turcu, Bilgeoğlu Baklavacı, Fazıl Bey, to name a few.
The said Fazil Bey is probably the oldest surviving micro-roastery in Istanbul. They have gone serial yet at their original store at the Kadıkoy market they still roast and grind their fantastic Turkish coffee everyday. They are among only few others dinosaurs of the coffee roasting in Istanbul. So how come that in the city where the traditions of Turkish coffee were born and perfected we are drinking mass-produced and far from ideal roast?
We chatted about that with Çağatay, owner, ideologist and barista of KronotRop. It looks to me, I said, that the whole tradition of Turkish coffee centers around having Turkish coffee at a kind of social gathering – large or very private. It becomes more of symbolic act of hospitality when Turkish coffee is offered by a host or a sign of friendship when a cup accompanies a private chat. And as the act becomes symbolic there is much less focus on the actual flavor of the coffee.
Çağatay grins skeptically at the first mention of Turkish coffee. He considers it a backward beverage anyways made with the lowest quality beans (Brazilian Rio Minas) and brewed at the impossibly high temperature (100C) versus 92-94C in the machine at KronotRop (Nuova Simonelli, if this rings a bell for you). As the antitheses to the vulgarized Turkish coffee traditions KronotRop is careful with the bean sourcing and very particular about the brewing.
KronotRop beans are single-origin: just like in wine where a big producer sourcing Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from around the area to meet its production needs versus a specific chateau located in a particular area and growing its very own type of Cabernet Sauvignon at the specific climate, earth and applying the equipment and skill particular to this chateau. And true wine lovers appreciate that artisanal approach to the wine making and willing to pay premium for the resulting product. Same holds for those serious about coffee and crowding tiny counter at KronotRop instead of going elsewhere. KronotRop’s coffees each has a character and Çağatay is scrupulously studying them before introducing to the Istanbul coffee lovers.
When choosing the beans to take home I explain to Çağatay that I don’t like overpowering sour and bitter aftertaste in coffee and will most likely use the beans for French press and he recommends me Guatemalan Finca Los Caballitos. The beans are in fact exactly what I steer away from – bright, acidic and even “waxy-heavy mouth-feel”. But KronotRop owner explains that since the French press does not extract all the power of the beans this effects will be mellowed in that type of brewing. He hands out detailed instructions on brewing proper filtered coffee and next morning at home I diligently follow all the 11 (!) steps paying attention to the right weights of coffee and water. After the 6 long minutes of brewing it comes – rich velvety coffee with the promised lemony sourness and that clove-like flavor of black pepper. It was like having a cup of coffee and a delicate praline along with it. Coffee snob or not you can tell when coffee is good because a palate does not lie. And mine is craving for another cup.
KronotRop: Address: Yeniçarşı Caddesi No. 5/b Beyoğlu. Hours: Mon – Sat: 08:30 – 20:00, Sun: 11:00 – 19:00. Phone: (0212) 249 9271