Turkey’s 500-year-old cafe culture gets a hipster makeover


ANKARA: A wave of stylish new coffee houses driven by Turkish hipsters and Arab visitors is shaking up Turkey’s 500-year-old coffee culture, which the UN cultural heritage agency UNESCO recognized as unique in 2013.

The new coffee houses, a feature in cities around the world, rely on artisanal coffee bean varieties, specialist roasting techniques and sophisticated equipment to produce a wide range of styles and flavors.

Coffee-lovers say the new cafes do not undermine traditional Turkish coffee culture, which started as a privilege of the Ottoman elite. The first coffee house opened in Istanbul in the 1550s after coffee beans arrived from Yemen and cafes have become the preferred means of socializing for many Turks.

“Those (older) coffee houses represent what is traditional,” Aydin Boke, founder of the Kvcii coffee house in the Aegean resort town of Ayvalik, told Arab News.

“We are just serving a modern alternative through cozy architectural designs and more varieties of coffee beans and roasting.”

Ubiquitous features
Coffee and tea are ubiquitous features of Turkish life. A popular Turkish saying is: “A single cup of coffee is remembered for 40 years.”

Many Turks like to read their fortune in the coffee grounds left in the bottom of the cup. Coffee is also an integral part of the traditional prewedding ceremony with the bride serving Turkish coffee with salt to the groom to test his masculinity and readiness for marriage.

Since 2014, Turkey’s bigger cities have hosted coffee festivals, attracting domestic and foreign tourists. Boke, the founder of the Kvcii coffee house, said he has many clients from the Gulf and Egypt.

“I can say that they are more open to new coffee tastes,” he said. “The fact that we are using high-quality coffee beans for Turkish coffee also promotes its consumption among domestic and foreign visitors.”

The new cafes are called “third wave” coffee houses, according to a popular classification that developed in the US. The first wave was marked by mass-market granular coffee introduced in the 19th century, while the second wave describes chains such as Starbucks, which first appeared in the 1970s.

One of Turkey’s third-wave pioneers, the Ministry of Coffee (MOC), introduced Australian coffee-making culture at its first branch in 2014 in Istanbul before expanding with 11 outlets across the country.

“We are continuing franchise talks with some Middle East and Gulf countries,” Deniz Yildiz Duzgun, the founder of MOC, told Arab News. “For three years, we have had regulars from that region, especially during spring.”

Many new coffee houses publish the origin and roasting dates of their beans. MOC has rigorous standards for its staff, including regular training to instil specialist knowledge. “A good barista should be able to tell the entire story of the coffee from the tree through its region, soil, country and altitude until the processing and roasting stage,” Duzgun said.

The coffee house serves traditional Turkish coffee alongside its specialized styles, with a price range similar to that of traditional cafes — but unlike them, it freshly roasts the beans imported from Yemen.

Baristocrat 3rd Wave Cafe and Roastery, which has three branches in Izmir, has franchise plans for Dubai and Kuwait, and is working on franchise requests from Germany and the US. It sells about 2.5 tons of roasted coffee a month and provides coffee beans to about 85 brands.

“Our products are being sold in Dubai and Saudi Arabia as well as in Lebanon,” Sonat Corumlu, general manager of Baristocrat, told Arab News. “We also provide consultancy services to coffee houses in these countries.”

New wave
He said the new wave did not pose a threat to traditional coffee culture. “It doesn’t have any claim to undermine this ancestral culture. Rather, the original place for Turkish coffee is the coffee house, which was the first wave of coffee. And we respect them,” he said.

“In the eyes of Turkish people, traditional coffee houses are seen as places mostly frequented by retired people to play games and smoke shisha.”

Despite coffee’s popularity, Turkey fails to feature in the top 20 countries for coffee consumption, which is dominated by Europe, according to the International Coffee Organization. Turkey does have the highest consumption of tea per capita in the world, partly because coffee prices rose sharply after the first and second world wars.

Third-wave coffee houses will be hoping to tap into this market potential.

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