The History of Coffee
Coffee was first discovered in Abyssinia (Ethiopia), and was initially consumed as a food. Later, its fruits were boiled in water, and this was used for medical purposes, and coffee became known as the ‘magic fruit’. Coffee also became known in Yemen around the beginning of the 15th century, and began to be widely used in this geographical region at the end of this century. It was taken to Mecca and Cairo around the beginning of the 16th century, and to Istanbul around the middle of the same century. Following the second siege of Vienna, coffee reached the important centers of Europe via Istanbul from the middle of the 17th century.
The habit of drinking coffee initially began among the mystics of Yemen. Due to its stimulating impact, in time coffee became an indispensable drink for these mystics, who prayed and worshipped throughout the night.
The Turks met coffee during the era of Suleiman the Magnificent. Coffee was brought to Istanbul by Özdemir Pasha, the Governor of Yemen, and took the name “Turkish coffee” due to the particular way in which Turks prepared it. Until the end of the 19th century, Turkish coffee was sold as green coffee beans. After being roasted in special coffee roasting pans at home, it was then put through coffee grinders before drinking. Mehmet Efendi, who first offered ground coffee to coffee lovers in 1871, became well-known within a short time, and was known by the title of “Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi” (the seller of ground coffee).
Referred to as the “black pearl” by coffee addicts, coffee gradually began to take its place in the kitchens of the court and began to be consumed in large amounts. The flavor and fame of Turkish coffee spread first to Europe and then to the rest of the world thanks to the merchants and travelers who passed through Istanbul and the Ottoman ambassadors.
Turkish Coffee | The Gift of the Ottomans to the World
Venetian merchants were the first to take coffee from Anatolia to Europe, at the beginning of the 17th century, and coffee drinking began to be more widespread in Europe from the first years of the 18th century. “Coffee” in English, is known as “kahve” in Turkish, “café” in French, “kaffe” in German and “kave” in Hungarian.
The story behind how coffee got into Austria is also quite interesting. When the Ottoman armies retreated following the 2nd Siege of Vienna in 1683, they left behind sacks full of coffee. The Austrians initially assumed that what was contained in these sacks was animal fodder. Georg Kolschitzky, who knew the Ottomans, asked for these sacks to be given to him, and used these as his capital to open a place in Vienna where coffee was drunk, thus introducing the Austrians to coffee.
Coffee in our Culture
A coffee culture, of a prevalence not enjoyed by any other beverage in the world, was born together with coffee and coffee houses becoming an indispensable part of social life.
In the first sources, coffee is referred to as a ‘black colored drink consumed by Turks, which was never drunk with meals, the taste of which was savored with slow sips, and which was always present at meetings between friends’.
Coffee has an important place in Turkish literature and folklore, with many statements made, poems written and ballads sang about it, such as “Coffee comes from Yemen”.
The first coffee house in Istanbul was opened by two Syrians, named Hakem and Şems, during the era of Suleiman the Magnificent. People were introduced to coffee through the coffee houses, which were first opened in Tahtakale, and then spread at pace to the rest of the city. In time, coffee houses became meeting and conversation places not only of the general public, but also of the famous poets and scholars of the learned section of society.
From Ottoman times to this day, it is a tradition that when the groom’s side ask a girl’s family for her hand in marriage, the prospective bride will serve coffee, and wait with tray in hand until they have been finished. In this way, the prospective bride can be seen better by the groom’s side. In some regions, the groom is served coffee made with a large amount of salt, in order to test his patience.
Coffee holds an important place in our culture. The name of the first meal of the day, in other words, breakfast in Turkish is ‘kahvaltı’ (‘kahve altı’ – ‘before coffee’). The reason for this is that it is a meal eaten before coffee. There are numerous idioms and proverbs containing coffee in Turkish, such as, “A cup of coffee is remembered for forty years”, “drinking bitter coffee”, and “the soul desires neither a coffee nor a coffee house, but a chat; coffee is just an excuse”.
“Turkish coffee” is also amongst the unforgettable in classical music. J.S. Bach composed his famous Coffee Quintet because of his fondness of coffee. The French novelist Pierre Loti, known for his love of Turks, used to go continuously to coffee houses due to his love for coffee and for Istanbul. A coffee house in Eyüp, which was his favorite district, today has a coffee house referred to in his name. Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Moliere, Andre Gide and Balzac are among the famous names who had a fondness for Turkish coffee during and after the 17th century.
The Benefits of Turkish Coffee
Experts agree that consuming a large amount of filtered coffee is harmful to health. However, when consumed at the right dose, Turkish coffee has no harmful effects endangering health. Since only the watery part is drunk and the sediments are left behind at the bottom of the cup, the amount of caffeine consumed from Turkish coffee is low. The 50 milligrams of coffee in one cup can be eliminated from the body within a short time. The cups used for Turkish coffee are of an ideal size in this respect. Coffee drunk at the correct dos, contributes to a clear mind, the reduction of headaches and easier digestion. It is also stimulating, soothing and relaxing.
The Preparation of Turkish Coffee
In order to make a good coffee, the water needs to be free of chlorine and cold. Coffee addicts agree on the need for it to be prepared on a barbecue, with the hot ashes of coal, for 15-20 minutes. Coffee is placed into cold water in a brass pot with a thick bottom. Two teaspoons of coffee are added for every cup, with two teaspoons of sugar also being added according to taste. The pot is removed from the fire when the coffee becomes frothy, and the first foams are shared among the coffee cups. The coffee is then put back on the fire. The remaining coffee is brought to the boil again one more time, and poured into the cups.
One of the most important features of Turkish coffee is its plentiful amount of froth. Due to its soft and velvety froth, the flavor of the coffee remains on the palate for a long period. Additionally, this delicious froth, which can remain in place without losing its shape for several minutes, also plays the role of a cover for the coffee, keeping it hot. Some coffee addicts wishing to savor the actual flavor of Turkish coffee agree on drinking the coffee without any sugar at all. The purpose of the water served together with the coffee is to eliminate all of the flavors remaining in the mout, before drinking the coffee, so that only the real taste of coffee can be savored.
The Service of coffee in the Ottoman Times
The service of coffee in Ottoman times had a certain character attached to it. In some places, guests were served sweets, such as Turkish delight or confectionary, before coffee, and a bitter coffee was served while the flavor of the sweet was still present. During religious festivals, coffee was served in cups without a handle, within metal cup holders, while on other days, in coffee cups placed on saucers. Neroli was sometimes added into the coffee to give it a different flavor.
The service of coffee at court, on the other hand, was something much more important. Even though it first entered the court during the period of Suleiman the Magnificent, the gaining of a reputation of coffee as a beverage of the court only occurred during the period of Mehmed IV. Only coffee from Yemen was chosen at court. The cups used for serving coffee were made using china from Iznik or Kütahya, and there was a gold or silver handle outside these cups, in order to prevent the hand from burning.
Turkish coffee has been a very special beverage for a long time. Coffee is a beverage requiring effort, hygiene and care, during its processes of roasting, grounding, preparation and serving. These procedures are factors improving the flavor of the coffee. Going to so much trouble is an indication of the value attached to the person to whom the coffee is being served.