Why not try Turkish coffee?

Last week I was a couple of days in Istanbul, and when in Turkey one obviously doesn’t order espresso, but Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is a very interesting way of preparing coffee because it is in several aspects completely opposite from let’s say Western European coffee. In order to understand this we have to discuss the relation between the coffee roast, grind, preparation time and taste. Also, it is important to know that coffee is a solution of many different substances in (hot) water, and those substances do not dissolve equally easy in water. So what are the important relations?

  • Roast : when coffee changes from light to dark roast the basic taste looses acidity and gains bitterness.
  • Grind : finer ground coffee has more contact area with water. Therefore, finely ground coffee needs less preparation time to get the flavour out of the coffee compared to coarsely ground coffee.
  • Preparation time: when coffee stays longer in contact with (hot) water more components of the coffee will be freed from the coffee beans and dissolve in water. Pressure does this too. But if preparation time gets very long (or pressure very high) the coffee becomes more bitter.

Now the idea of filter coffee is that the coffee soaks rather long in the water. If coffee is ground too coarse there is little contact surface between coffee and water and on top the water runs through very fast. This results in a rather tasteless watery coffee. In terms of taste it is not a problem to grind the coffee too fine, but of course the water will not run through the filter anymore. Espresso is based on a different concept: the flavour is extracted from the coffee in a very short time, which requires a combination of fine coffee (large contact surface) and high pressure.

Turkish coffee is a very old and traditional way of preparing coffee, so high pressure equipment is out of the question. In order to still get the same amount of flavour in the coffee as for instance espresso the only way is to grind the coffee even finer as done for espresso (more contact surface) and let the coffee be longer in contact with water. That cannot be done in a filter anymore: with such finely ground coffee the water will never run through. Therefore the coffee is mixed with cold water and then slowly brought to boiling in a special pan,  the cezve. Regional differences exist whether the coffee is brought to boil only once, or several times slightly cooled down and brought to boil once more. The results is a strong coffee full of flavour and quite comparable to espresso.

However, especially when multiple boiling cycles are used, the coffee may also become quite bitter. This is compensated by using coffee that is roasted a bit lighter than one would use for filter coffee or espresso. Therefore making Turkish coffee from Full City+, Italian or French roast beans may not be very successful as it may give a very bitter coffee.

The grinding, finally, is so fine that it almost feels like flour. Many household grinders can in fact not grind coffee that fine unless it’s a seriously expensive grinder. But if you have a local Turkish supermarket where you can buy your own cezve, you may want to look if they also have a hand grinder for Turkish coffee. Usually they only cost a handful of euros. Grinding is a slow job, but it works!

Knowing all this, nothing can stop you from making your own Turkish coffee once in a while. Just for a change… Pour the coffee mixture after boiling in a small cup. Make sure you have some foam as well. Let the solid coffee particles sink and set….and enjoy!

One final practical note: if you prefer your coffee with sugar: boil the sugar along with the coffee, because putting it in afterwards and stir will stir up the finely ground coffee which will take a long time to sink again. By then your coffee will be cold.


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