SUMMARY: What is Turkish coffee and why does it taste different? Turkish coffee, or “Türk Kahvesi” in proper Turkish, is a style of coffee preparation popular in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries. It involves a fine grind, full immersion boiling, and an unfiltered serving style. These all lead to a bold and intense cup. You might think it is like espresso, but it is actually quite different!
When I first became passionate about specialty coffee, I assumed that there was not much going on with Turkish coffee. After all, why would I boil the finest possible grind and expect a delicious result? I assumed it would taste like a bad espresso.
However, as someone who has since married a Turkish woman and been to Turkey many times, I can say I was definitely wrong! Not only is Turkish coffee not like espresso, it is a method rich with history and traditions in Turkish culture. You may have seen this brewing method in other countries in the Mediterranean and Middle East. However, it is the Turks of the Ottoman Empire that opened the world’s first coffee house, and the culture and routine are part of what makes Turkish coffee different.
So if you reflexively see Turkish coffee as unappealing like I used to, I encourage you to keep reading with an open mind. Now that I speak Turkish and go there often, I can say that the ritual, history, and culture behind this beverage are worth learning about. So I hope this article will convince you to try it!
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What Is Turkish Coffee?
Compared to the standard drip coffee beverage, Turkish coffee brewing produces an intense beverage that takes getting used to. To make Turkish coffee, you put water and finely ground coffee into a small pot called a cezve. After boiling long enough to produce a foamy thick texture, you serve the entire mixture unfiltered into a small cup that resembles an espresso cup.
Since the beverage is served boiling hot, most of the grounds settle to the bottom of the cup by the time you drink it. While the concentrated beverage tastes fine by itself, many people add sugar to balance the intensity. You may have seen a similar beverage poured out of an Ibrik in other countries throughout the Middle East.
Why Does Turkish Coffee Taste Different? Here’s the 101
So, why is the taste of Turkish coffee so different compared to other brewing methods? There are several reasons for this reputation of unique flavor. Besides being a full immersion brewing method, Turkish coffee is also served unfiltered and served as a concentrated beverage. The fine coffee grounds, combined with the boiling immersion, also create a thick texture and unique foam on top.
- Copper Turkish coffee pot (made in Turkey) and wooden spoon
- 2mm thickness (built for maximum durability)
- Wooden handle for comfortable use
- Engraved traditional floral pattern
- 12 fl oz capacity
Some countries in Eastern Europe and North Africa also have a similar beverage, and nationalistic rivalries with countries like Greece mean some places refer to the beverage as Greek Coffee. But as you will read in the history, the beverage comes from the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
The History of Turkish Coffee
While nobody knows the exact beginning of the coffee’s timeline, Istanbul (then Constantinople…some background music for TMBG fans) was home to the world’s first coffee house in 1475. Middle Eastern coffee houses quickly popularized the beverage, and board games and intellectual conversation became a staple of Turkish coffee culture.
While early coffee drinkers crushed the coffee cherries (and beans inside) into a wine-like beverage, Turkish coffee in the Ottoman Empire involved roasting and grinding the beans by themselves, creating a black beverage. There are accounts of travelers to Ottoman territories where they discovered a new beverage “made by a black seed boiled in water.” And it was the Turkish invasions of Europe in the 1500s that introduced coffee to Europe.
So part of the fun of drinking Turkish coffee is appreciating this rich history and culture. You can check out this article dedicated to coffee history to learn more about the Ottoman Empire and how coffee spread to Europe and ignited a cultural change. But for now, keep reading for more on how Turkish coffee is unique.
How Does Turkish Coffee Work & What Makes It Different?
All brewing styles use ground coffee, but Turkish coffee uses finely ground coffee beans, even finer than espresso. You mix a small amount of water and coffee grinds into the Turkish coffee pot and boil the mixture one or more times until you get the desired foam. The small pot only brews 2-3 coffees at a time, but the size is part of how you achieve the correct foam and texture.
But besides being a brewing method, Turkish coffee is also an expression of culture and ritual.
In Turkish culture, you drink coffee after breakfast and drink tea with breakfast. This fact is symbolized by the term for breakfast in Turkey, “khavaltı”, which literally means “before coffee.”
Authentic Turkish Coffee Ingredients
When brewing traditional Turkish coffee, you usually use coffee from the arabica bean. For example, the most popular Turkish coffee brand Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi uses 100% Arabica coffee. But you can still use the robusta variety, just expect a different taste.
The other primary authentic ingredient for brewing coffee in Turkey is sugar. I recommend tasting your coffee plain first, and later adding sugar to taste.
What Roast Is Turkish Coffee?
Specialty coffee tends to roast the coffee bean lightly to maximize the acidic flavor compounds. Brewing coffee as espresso or a pour-over highlights delicate flavors. But Turkish coffee should be at least a medium roast to maximize the foam. Since you are boiling the coffee, you will want the strong roast flavors to dominate.
But if the roast is too dark, you might be turned off by overly bitter flavors. Most Turkish coffee brands have a darker brown color but avoid being so dark that it turns black.
What Grind Is Turkish Coffee?
For the Turkish brewing method to work, the coffee grind has to be extremely fine. Ground coffee meant for a drip machine will not brew correctly. An espresso grind will get you close, but technically Turkish coffee is even finer than espresso. Have your coffee ground at the finest setting, buy pre-ground Turkish coffee, or invest in a Turkish coffee mill.
Turkish Coffee Taste: What To Expect
Compared to regular coffee, you can expect Turkish coffee to taste more intense, both in flavor and mouthfeel. Classic Turkish coffee usually uses a medium roast coffee bean, so it is not the roast degree that gives it a bold flavor. And, although the coffee to water ratio is stronger than typical American filter coffee (roughly 1:10,) it is not as concentrated as espresso.
So why does Turkish coffee have a reputation for having such a bold flavor? It turns out that the taste of Turkish coffee comes primarily from three features: the fine grind, the full immersion boiling, and the lack of filtration. The unfiltered serving is probably the most unique part, and it leads to a thick and foamy texture that adds to the perception of a strong taste.
Turkish Coffee’s Caffeine Content
Despite how intense classic Turkish coffee looks, it has a lower caffeine content compared to regular coffee. This lower dose is due to the serving size being 3-4 ounces. A traditional Turkish coffee cup has on average 50 milligrams of caffeine.
But if you were to use the Turkish brewing method to make eight ounces of coffee, you would have much more caffeine than standard drip coffee.
How To Drink Turkish Coffee
This section will give you ideas about how to drink Turkish coffee, including adding sugar and serving sweets on the side. You’ll also learn why some people add spices like cardamom to their coffee.
Lastly, I’ll cover some of the basic cultural traditions around how Turks drink coffee, like wedding traditions and fortune telling.
Turkish Coffee Cardamom
One way to spice up your Turkish coffee is to sweeten it with sugar. In Turkey, you can order coffee with various levels of sweetness. But you may have heard of adding cardamom to Turkish coffee, and some coffee brands come with it added.
You might be familiar with cardamom in Indian cuisine, and many Middle Eastern desserts use it as a flavoring. So it comes as no surprise that cardamom blends well with coffee and spiced tea. Personally, I never include cardamom in my Turkish coffee but do not be surprised to see it in some recipes.
Turkish Delight, Chocolate, and other Sweets
Whether or not you add sugar to your coffee depends on your tolerance for intense coffee flavors. But there is no denying that having something sweet on the side of coffee is a wonderful pairing. And since the standard time for drinking coffee in Turkey is after breakfast (the word for breakfast in Turkish literally means “before coffee”), you can think of having something sweet as a breakfast dessert or afternoon snack.
Turkish delight is the most common sweet to have with coffee, but Turks also put chocolate or other sweets on the side. Since you serve Turkish coffee on a saucer, there is enough room on the side of your cup for a few sweets!
What Is Turkish Coffee Fortune Telling?
Tasseography is the tradition of interpreting the patterns of tea leaves or coffee grounds as a method of fortune-telling. And, with Turkish coffee reading, you find patterns in the shapes of the spent coffee grounds in the bottom of your cup.
After you drink all of the liquid, place the saucer over your Turkish coffee cup and lightly spin it around. Flip it upside down and wait several minutes or until the cup is no longer hot to the touch. If nobody you know can interpret the signs, you can always look them up online. Even if you don’t believe in the tradition, it is a fun way to connect with Turkish culture as you drink coffee.
Turkish Wedding Tradition with Coffee
Turkish culture also has a fun wedding tradition with coffee. When the groom-to-be and his family come to the woman’s house to ask about marriage, the bride-to-be prepares coffee for everyone. Tradition says she should put salt in the groom-to-be’s cup instead of sugar, testing whether he can handle the bad taste.
Luckily, I did not have to experience this!
How To Prepare Turkish Coffee
I’ll keep this section short since there is a page dedicated to making Turkish coffee. It includes dosage, making multiple cups, and even brewing Turkish coffee without the proper equipment.
But if you have a cezve and small cups, the basic idea is to boil the mixture of coffee and water on low-medium heat while stirring until you get foam. You can add the foam evenly into your cups first, later filling them up. For dosage, use the Turkish coffee cup to measure water, using one teaspoon of coffee for each serving.
Where To Buy Turkish Coffee
You can find Turkish coffee at a Turkish or Middle Eastern market, but you are unlikely to find it at a regular grocery store in most Western countries. Luckily, you can easily order it online to get the true Turkish experience. Alternatively, you can grind the coffee you already have at the finest setting and get similar results.
But the following are the most popular brands in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries. You can also read this guide for the top Turkish coffee beans you can order online.
Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi
Elite Turkish Ground Coffee
Elite Turkish Coffee with Cardamom
Cezve, Cups, and Other Equipment
If you do not yet own a cezve (the Turkish coffee maker), there is an entire article dedicated to Turkish coffee equipment, including electric machines that work surprisingly well. But if you want to skip the geeky details and just buy a standard Turkish coffee pot and cup set, I recommend the following products:
BCS 12 Oz Copper Turkish Coffee Pot
Gural Turkish Cup and Saucer
What Is Turkish Sand Coffee?
The traditional method of preparing coffee in Turkey is Turkish coffee on sand. In this method, you bury the cezve in hot sand and slowly simmer the ground coffee beans in water until you get the desired texture.
The main benefit of Turkish coffee sand is that you get a more even heat distribution. And since this method cooks the coffee more slowly, you also get a richer/thicker texture with a foam (kaymak) that lasts longer. If you try making Turkish sand coffee, you will likely find it to be more flavorful and aromatic.
What Is the Difference Between Turkish Coffee and Espresso?
While you drink Turkish coffee and espresso from similarly sized cups, the taste and preparation are different. As described above, Turkish coffee is an immersion brewing method where you boil a slurry of coffee and water to create a thick and foamy drink.
But espresso requires a pump to force water through a tightly packed puck of ground coffee. The similarities are the fine grind and small serving size, but you can expect espresso to have more caffeine and a thicker texture.
You can read this showdown of Turkish coffee vs espresso to get the full details.
Before wrapping up, let’s answer some of the most common questions about authentic Turkish coffee and how to make it.
What makes Turkish coffee unique?
The primary features that make Turkish coffee different are the extremely fine grind, the full immersion boiling while brewing, and the unfiltered and concentrated serving. These all lead to intense flavors and thick textures.
What does Turkish coffee taste like?
While Turkish coffee is not as concentrated as espresso, the boiling of fine coffee grounds and the unfiltered way of drinking produces a strong flavor that highlights the intensity of the coffee roast.
How much caffeine is in Turkish coffee?
While much depends on the brewing style and coffee roast, you can expect Turkish coffee to have on average 50 milligrams of caffeine, much less than a standard cup of drip coffee.
Is Turkish coffee very strong?
Turkish coffee is known for having a strong flavor because it is unfiltered and involves boiling fine coffee grounds in a small amount of water. But in terms of caffeine, Turkish coffee is not as strong as espresso or drip coffee.
How is Turkish coffee made?
You brew Turkish coffee by combining a teaspoon of finely ground coffee and 65 ml of water into the cezve, or traditional Turkish coffee maker. You then heat the mixture until you get a thick and foamy texture.
Is Turkish coffee stronger than espresso?
Despite how intense, dark, and thick Turkish coffee can appear, it is not as strong as a standard espresso shot. Espresso has a more intense flavor and more caffeine.
Final Thoughts on Turkish Coffee
Hopefully, this article helped you understand what makes Turkish coffee unique. Besides appreciating the flavor, I also love how it connects to the long history of coffee, the world’s most iconic beverage.
A specialty coffee lover might frown upon the method as unsophisticated compared to regular coffee, but I think the texture and richness of this beverage will surprise you. Flavors aside, it is also fun to learn about another culture and reflect on their historic rituals.
And since Turkish coffee is not something you are likely to find at your local coffee shop, it is the perfect beverage to prepare at home for a unique experience!
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