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I recently returned from an international trip to Prague (Czech Republic) where I was working on a Music Project called Electronic Opus (I did orchestration for an artist named BT). I followed this leg of the trip with three days in Istanbul (Turkey). First off, here are a few cool facts about coffee throughout history in Turkey:
- The Coffee Plant was discovered in the 11th Century in Ethiopia where it was boiled in hot water, believed to give strength to sailors for long journeys.
- Coffee was then introduced to Yemen in the mid 14th Century where it was consumed in the same boiled whole plant (instead of just the coffee bean) concoction.
- Coffee was introduced to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1555 from one of the Ottoman governors of Yemen.
- Sultan Suleiman so liked the drink that he created a position of Chief Coffee Maker (kahvecibaşı) in the royal court!
Knowing this, I wanted to search out the best and strongest coffee in the birthplace of modern coffee. While staying in the Historic District, I plotted out my points. Here is the tale of my coffee experience in Istanbul!
Hobyar Mh.Arpacılar Caddesi No:8, Fatih, Turkey
I started off by the hotel and ran into CoffeeTopia (“Coffee is Good!” – their slogan). It was a very modern coffee shop with extremely well trained staff. Many of the shops in Turkey have people standing in the doors asking for your business. I caught them off guard as it was early for them (8:15AM)…Yes…8:15 was “too early” to buy coffee! Their coffee game does not start till about 9, but their nights go until around 11 or so. The Barista quickly went inside and told me I could have whatever I like. I glanced over the menu and was impressed by the setup.
I asked about a Turkish Coffee, and his face set the tone for the rest of the day. In Turkey, a lot of coffee shops actually like to serve “American” style coffee (sugar, cream, milk, syrups). Star$’s is seen as a status symbol. Most shops in the city offer you an Americano (espresso with hot water), latte, or a Cappuccino, but advise against the “Turkish Style” coffee.
That said, I ordered a small cappuccino, knowing I would have a lot of coffee in the hours to come. It was delectable.
The Barista was proud of their craft and did something I had never seen. They stopped pouring my foam about 1 cm from the top and he quickly asked if I wanted spice. I said, “I’ll take it!” And then he went on to load up the top of the drink with the spice mixture he had in a canister. “You’re ruining it…” I thought to myself! He completely covered the top of the cup. In a moment of salvation, however, he redeemed the life of the cappuccino by pouring the rest of the foam over top of this layer of spice. The visual effect was STUNNING.
As a side, these were the single greatest printed coffee cups I had ever seen. The printing, thickness, and texture is second to none. After that I was OFF!
Karabatak Karaköy (Julius Meinl)
Kara Mustafa Paşa Mah., Kara Ali Kaptan Sok. No:7, Kemankeş/Istanbul – Turkey
Check out this one coffee shop that roasts their beans in Austria!
I walked across the Bosphorus Bridge to find this one. I was able to see all of the fishermen making fires on the side of the bridge to stay warm as they caught their daily catch to sell to the local market. I walked up an extremely steep hill for a few miles and then stumbled down a few back alleys filled with cobblestone and broken building pieces, to find this incredible little place identified by a Red Fezz. I knew I had found the place when I saw their very cool wall art. The place is called Karabatak Karaköy (by Julius Meinl). It was a converted abandoned metal workshop.
They had big band playing and I walked in to a barista also not quite ready for business. Again, I was “up early”! She was more than ready to help me though. She was a nice girl studying psychology at a local university and working here part time. The other barista was a musician with a sick pattern tattooed up his neck. I thought I was in Fishtown in Philly. I asked if I could have a few pictures and the girl told me I would need to contact the owner, who promptly emerged from the back.
After formal introductions he relaxed a bit and warmed up. I was served the richest Americano I have ever experienced served with a small glass of water to clean the palate when I finished. The owner sat with me for a moment and told me that when we has building this place, he had to lie to people and tell them he was the architect for the first two years. He said “I was beat up two times. Everyone kept telling me now that I’m lucky. ‘You’re so lucky!’ I am lucky…” (He gave me a side glance) “but you have to work very hard for it too. Work and luck. It must be both.” They are being featured in The Guardian and the New York Times.
He went on to explain that “Turkish people have developed a certain taste for [bad – inferred] coffee. You know, it’s surprising but it’s very hard to find good coffee IN TURKEY, even though they introduced the rest of Europe to it. We were bringing in all of these…Sumatra, Blue Coast specialty coffees and people just didn’t like them. You have to know what they like.” We completely agree.
I sat downstairs and felt like I was in a time warm. All of the music and furnishings were from an age past with a touch of class. Think if Gatsby owned a coffee shop and wanted to throw a soiree, but in the morning. The seats were comfortable and the stone tables gave the place a feeling of permanence.
I was then brought upstairs to enjoy their quiet room. It was a wonderfully designed room with long tables and no music. There were pictures of Steven Tyler and it was mentioned that Ben Afflek also visited when they were filming Argo and liked the place!
I sipped my coffee in silence for a few minutes and then headed downstairs to go to the next place! Enchanting environment.
Olivia Geçidi 1/A, Beyoğlu (near St. Antoine Cathedral on İstiklal)
I originally went here at 8:30 AM, but the door was chained up. This little shop that is down an alley in a very full shopping district (where they have a Shake Shack btw) is called Mandabatmaz, which translates to “So thick, a water buffalo could not sink in it!”
It was down a side alley and looks like a little old place, but make no mistake, this operation doesn’t stop moving from the moment it opens. Mandabatmaz gets coffee brought in and roasted just for themselves. They do not sell their beans either. They make it over an open flame, which looks like a Bunsen burner from a science lab and sounds like a jet engine. It is the traditional way of making Turkish coffee (Turk kahvesi). They have been doing it since the 60’s at this same little spot.
They heat up coffee finely grown (finer than espresso) in what is called a cezve. It is actually roasting a little bit in the water until it almost bubbles and then they swiftly pour it into tiny coffee cups called fıncan.
Though the cups are tiny, it took me 10 minutes to finish! I simply COULDN’T finish it any faster. It was the thickest, darkest coffee I have ever tasted in my life. It put even deep love for dark coffee to the test, but I came out victorious.
At first, I did not like it. At ALL actually. Texturally, it was as though I was drinking sand. I couldn’t bear it, but I pressed through and something happened. The grains began to sink and what was left on TOP of the tiny cup was a taste richer and deeper than I had imagined. It was like I was drinking history. I could see merchants on large boats in early ages waking up watching the same sunrise I had seen earlier to export this finely roasted and ground work of art and bringing them to all the corners of Europe and beyond. I am thankful for their hard work, as we would not have coffee in our daily vocabulary.
I slowly realized, this is a cup to be enjoyed with friends, over conversation, even in an alleyway. This is the drink of revolutionary ideas and government planning. It is so small, but yet, so powerful, a good reminder that what is underneath the surface can be more potent than what others may initially see in us.
I finished this off and said that this was “a trip well spent”, even if for that moment alone. I had accomplished PRECISELY what I set out to do. I wanted to have the finest cup of Turkish coffee and I do believe I found it that day.
Thanks for reading! If you want to have your own adventure, tap here to pick up a Cup of Legendary!