“Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.”
– Turkish Proverb
One of the earliest known forms of brewed coffee, dating back to the 16th century, is the brewing technique commonly referred to in the western world as Turkish or Greek coffee. Believed to have originated in Damascus, and still a common brewing method throughout the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans, this style of preparing and drinking coffee enjoys a much smaller, cult-like following in the US. Once one has experienced a well-prepared cup of Turkish coffee, or better yet has taken part in the brewing ritual itself, no coffee experience can match it in terms of its rich flavor, intense sweetness, mythical tradition, and delicate preparation process.
The key to preparing a good cup of Turkish coffee at home is the acquisition of an ibrik (also known as a cezve, kanaka, džezva, xhezve or bríki) and the appropriate grinder. An ibrik is a traditional Turkish pot designed to brew coffee in the hot desert sand. Traditionally made of copper, the ibrik has a wide base that narrows at the top, one or sometimes two spouts, and a long wooden handle. Ibriks are available in a variety of sizes, and are made from a variety of different of metals.
Should one be inclined to pursue an authentic Turkish coffee preparation method, a mortar and pestle can be used to grind the coffee beans into a fine powder, though there are a wide variety of quality handmills available, such as a Zassenhaus Mokka Havanna, which are capable of pulverizing the beans to the desired consistency. Many machine grinders now have a setting for Turkish coffee that can give you a very fine grind, though you will achieve the best results through the use of a good handmill. The fundamental component to a perfect cup of Turkish coffee is to grind the beans to a powdery finish.
How to Prepare Turkish Coffee
Once you have your ibrik, or similar vessel, at hand, and have ground your coffee, gather some sugar, cold, filtered water, and a spoon. You are ready to begin.
First, measure the water using your serving cups. Traditionally, a small demitasse-style cup is used. If you are making just one serving, fill the cup to the rim with water and pour it into the ibrik. Follow the same logic for two, three, or four servings. It is important to note that you need some room at the top of the ibrik, maybe a third of the total volume or so, to allow for the “bubbling up” of the brew. Once you have the correct amount of water in the ibrik, add one heaping teaspoon of coffee per serving into the water.
Now for the sugar and spice, and your chance to really compliment the brew with your own personal touch. Sugar is a common ingredient in Turkish coffee (and to many a staple), and spices such as cardamom (ground seeds or powder) and anise (also finely ground or powder) are also sometimes used to spice up the brew. The amount of sugar and spice used will greatly alter the taste and experience of drinking the brew, given the size of the demitasse, so a relatively conservative starting point would be a teaspoon of sugar for every two heaping teaspoons of coffee. In Turkey, it is common to be offered four degrees of sweetness: sade (unsweetened; no sugar), sekerli (a little sweetened; half a teaspoon or so), orta sekerli (medium sweetened; about one teaspoon), cok sekerli (very sweet; at least one and a half teaspoons). You can work this part out in your own evolution as a Turkish coffee drinker, as slightly increasing or decreasing the amount of sugar will greatly change the sweetness and intensity of the brew, a decision you should make based on your own taste preferences. Once you have your water, coffee, and sugar in the ibrik, mix them together with a spoon until the sugar dissolves. Now it’s out to the desert to cook over the hot sand, or in many cases I’m sure, the stove top (which should do a fine job standing in for the sand).
Once your sugar and spice(s), if you’ve used them, are completely dissolved, place the ibrik on the heat source. Your heat should be at a consistent medium temperature, so as not to scorch the coffee and sugar. There is no need to stir the brew from this point on, but you do need to very attentively watch the pot as it heats up. When the coffee reaches a certain temperature it will begin to slowly boil and rise, or “bubble up”. This is normal, even desired, though you need to be very cautious as to not allow the brew to boil up and over the top of the ibrik, as it will rise very quickly once it gets going.
Once it has risen close to the top, remove the entire ibrik from the heat and allow the brew to settle down again. Once it settles, place the ibrik back on the heat source, and once again allow the brew to rise, though not quite to the top, and then remove it from the heat source. Repeat this process one more time, for a total of three bubblings. Now, pour off a little froth into each serving cup, and return it to the heat source. Allow the brew to bubble up for a fourth time, remove from the heat and slowly fill each cup with the brew, a little at a time in each to assure that each cup has the same amount of liquid in the end. Be sure to give the drink a minute or so to cool, as well as to allow the grounds to settle in the bottom of the cup. Also, advise guests that they should not drink the “mud” at the bottom of the cup, unless they enjoy chewing their coffee.
When finished drinking a cup of Turkish coffee, flip the cup over onto the serving plate and allow the grounds to run up the sides of the cup as it is cooling. Once the cup has thoroughly cooled, flip it back over and examine the patterns of the grounds in your cup, as it has long been said that they hold the drinker’s fortune. So if there is a fortune-teller nearby, you are in luck, but if not, at least you get to enjoy a great cup of coffee topped off with a little romance, mythology, and tradition.