So, I thought it was about time I made a post about Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is probably the darkest, strongest, most repulsive type of coffee to the average coffee drinker. Take the dark bitterness of espresso and multiply it by two. On a sip, the average American will spit it out or cringe at the strength of the drink. And the first time I tried Turkish coffee at the age of sixteen, that’s exactly what I did. My Lebanese aunt had brewed a small pot at a family gathering and offered me some in what appeared to be a shot glass. Initially, I looked at the cup with a bit of skepticism—I was used to drinking cups of coffee at least ten times that size. But after taking a sip, I found it hard to finish even that small amount. Up until recently, Turkish coffee has always been a black box to me that I’ve left unopened. And, surprisingly, once I started brewing Turkish coffee on my own, I loved it. It seems my Middle Eastern blood has been working in me these past six years, and my taste buds have adjusted to prefer this brewing method over any other.
So, let’s take a look at how to make it.
So, the name “Turkish coffee” mostly makes people think that the coffee beans are coming from Turkey. However, Turkish coffee is actually a brewing method (and you also cannot grow coffee in Turkey). In a loose sense, you can use whatever coffee you’d like for Turkish, but there are some choices that are better than others. I would recommend using a medium-roast coffee when brewing Turkish, and especially for your first time trying it. Some recommend mixing a medium roast and a dark roast—but we’ll keep things simple for now. Latin American coffees and Indonesian coffees tend to be the best in my experience for this type of brewing method. If you’re not sure what coffee you’re getting is coming from where, ask your local coffee shop what blends they’re serving and where they come from. I would caution most people against using any espresso roasts for Turkish coffee. When you brew Turkish coffee, it’s going to get dark—really dark. So, naturally, using coffee roasted for making espresso is going to give you an incredibly powerful cup of coffee. That being said, I also prefer using coffee roasted for espresso as Turkish—but I’m a bit of an oddball. As with everything in brewing Turkish coffee, everything is “to taste.” Never worry if you’re “doing it right.” As long as you can brew it the way you like it, you’re succeeding.
What You’ll Need:
Fortunately, brewing Turkish coffee is not an expensive venture. All you’ll need is coffee, a stove (preferably a gas stove for best results), a Turkish coffee pot (also called an ibrik or a cezve, seen above), and a nifty demitasse (also seen above). The ibrik is a small, thin copper pot with a long handle. This design is going to help the coffee boil more properly and quickly than using a wider pot, so don’t try to recreate this process in a regular ol’ cooking pot. It just won’t work. Ibriks are very cheap (mine cost me only ten dollars), and can usually be found at any Turkish or Arabic specialty shop. You can do a pretty easy Google search for Turkish grocery stores in your area to see if you can find one—Or, if all else fails, find one on the internet. As for the coffee, you want to have it ground as finely as you possibly can. On most professional grinders, the finest setting on them is labeled, “Turkish.” Once you’ve got those things, you’re ready to go.
[Side note: Some people use seasonings such as anise or cardamom to season Turkish coffee. This is also up to the drinker. Typically I brew Turkish coffee without any seasoning, but occasionally I pair certain coffees with something extra such as ginger, molasses, or Nutella.]
Learning to brew Turkish coffee is also very easy, but mastering your own recipe might take a while. The amounts of coffee you’d want to use is really up to you. Some people would say to use five teaspoons of coffee for a five-cup ibrik (so you know what a five-cup ibrik looks like, the ibrik in the image above brews five cups). For me, I use five tablespoons for an ibrik that brews five cups. Now, Turkish cups are a lot smaller than the mugs most Americans are used to using for coffee. Instead, a Turkish cup is going to look a bit more like a shot glass. In the image above, they’re using a demitasse, which is about half the size of a typical mug, or roughly two times the size of a traditional Turkish cup. Since your result is going to be a lot stronger than traditional coffee (and, much more caffeinated), you’ll want to tone down the dosage.
Once you’ve got the coffee scooped into the pot, now would be the time to add sugar, instead of after the coffee is brewed (this would also be the time to add a seasoning if you were going to). Turkish coffee is typically served without any milk, but very sweet. There is an old Turkish proverb that says “Coffee should be as black as hell, as strong as death, and as sweet as love.” That being said, feel free to be generous with the sugar. However, I would recommend staying below the 1:5 ratio of scoops of sugar to scoops of coffee.
Once you’ve got the sugar in, you’ll want to add cold, clean water. Unlike most brewing methods, which heat or boil the water before adding it to coffee grounds, you’re going to boil the coffee at the same time as the water. So, after you’ve added the cold water, you’re going to want to stir the solution of coffee, water, and sugar together very thoroughly. After you stir this first time, you won’t be stirring the pot again. One of two things will probably happen once you do this: Either it will all seem to mix together perfectly, or the wet coffee grounds will surface to the top and stay there. Either way it happens is fine, and you’re ready to put your ibrik on the stove.
How it’s Done:
Once your pot is on the stove, turn the heat up to a very low flame—the lower the better. Because of the pot’s design, it doesn’t need a lid in order to boil quickly, and the slower you can bring the pot to a boil, the better. And here is also where you might get a little impatient, since the process from here on out will take another ten minutes or so of active watching. Once your pot is on the stove, don’t take your eyes off of it for a minute. Once the pot starts to boil, it can overflow within seconds. If you didn’t see the coffee grounds gathering together at the top of the pot at first, you will now. And though you might be tempted to think to stir the coffee together to remove the effect, don’t. What’s happening is that the coffee grounds are forming a sort of crust on top of the liquid. Just below the crust, the liquid coffee is going to heat up very quickly, since the crust is serving as a sort of lid for the pot. Once the liquid coffee has gotten hot enough, it will break through the crust on its own and boil.
Once the coffee comes to a boil, it’s going to foam and froth up right up to the rim—and will overflow if you’re not careful. So you’ll want to wait until the coffee has frothed as close to the rim as you can, and just before it’s going to boil over, take it off the heat and let it cool. Now, you’re not done quite yet. You can either leave the flame going or turn it off, but you’re going to let the pot sit for about a full minute. Once that minute is up, put the pot back onto the heat and wait for it to boil again. And, again, take the pot off the heat once the liquid is boiling up to the rim. At this point, you can either turn off the heat, or let the coffee sit for another minute and bring it to a third boil. The third boil is totally optional, but I always find that the coffee tastes better if I let it boil a third time. Some people even let the coffee boil a fourth time, but like all things with Turkish coffee, you’re really brewing to taste. Just experiment and find out what you like best.
Once you’re done with the boiling, let the coffee sit for another minute or two. At this point, you’ll notice that there’s a layer of golden foam at the top of the pot (Note: It’s okay if your foam isn’t thick or prominent). Just below that, however, there’s a good deal of coffee grounds in the drink, and giving it a minute or two to sit is going to help them settle to the bottom. It’s very important that you don’t try to strain out the grounds in any fashion. Grounds are part of the Turkish coffee experience, even though you’re trying to minimize the amount you get by letting the coffee sit.
Once all of that is done, you have another art to learn: The art of pouring Turkish coffee. With most coffee brewers, you can simply pour coffee for each cup, one at a time. However, for Turkish coffee you want to take turns pouring into each cup that you’ll be serving. At first, you want to use a heavy pour, to coax the foam at the top into each cup, and take turns pouring into the different cups so that each cup gets an equal share of the foam. After that, with each pour you’ll want to use a lighter pour so that the grounds don’t follow the liquid into the cup. As before, keep alternating cups when you pour, because most of the grounds will be at the bottom of this time, and you don’t want the last cup to get all of it. Then, just enjoy.
Although the process of brewing might seem a bit tedious as a morning ritual when you can use a simple drip-method, I find that making Turkish coffee puts me at a surreal sort of peace. Instead of starting out my morning in a rush to get coffee brewing while I take a shower, I start my day out by patiently waiting for the water to boil: Once, twice, three times. It forces me to develop a sense of art to my morning cup. And, I guess that is why I love it.