The Turkish coffee brewing method produces one of the most intense coffee drinks I’ve ever experienced.
Rich, bitter and profoundly strong, it’s an experience that I think everyone should try at least once.
In this article, I’m going to explain everything you need to know about this age-old method. I’ll cover its origins and also explain how you can make it yourself in your own kitchen.
(My guide to brewing coffee at home contains plenty more tutorials and buying tips!)
The History of Turkish Coffee
Turkish coffee dates back to the 15th century, although its exact origins are – understandably – shrouded somewhat by the mists of time.
There are a couple of different theories about how the method came to become so popular, first within the Ottoman Empire and then beyond.
One version of events claims that the Ottoman Governor of Yemen was impressed enough to share it with the Sultan. He in turn encouraged its consumption across the empire.
Another states that Syrian traders introduced the coffee to Istanbul. The Sultan sampled it and then gave it his seal of approval.
Regardless of how exactly history panned out, we can be confident that the method originated in Yemen and then spread to Turkey.
We can also be confident in considering it to be one of the oldest-known brewing methods in the history of coffee.
Who Will – and Won’t – Enjoy Turkish Coffee?
If you enjoy savoring small, supremely intense cups of coffee then I think you’ll find this stuff a game-changer.
If you don’t like your coffee to be at all gritty though, then you might not like the end results.
This is because there’s no filtering involved. Although the process is designed to leave the grounds at the bottom of your cup, these will inevitably affect the overall texture.
If that hasn’t put you off though, this is a coffee brewing method that’s inexpensive to get started with. It will also add an impressive brewing technique to your repertoire.
Just be aware that although the process is simple on paper, mastering the process yourself – using your own stove – will take some practice.
It’s all about savoring a unique experience though, and doing so with the satisfaction of a good bit of craftsmanship well done!
Essential Equipment & Ingredients
Next, I’m going to cover everything you’ll need to get started with making your own Turkish coffee at home.
Cezve / Ibrik
There’s no need to go crazy and buy ornate cups and specialty Turkish teaspoons, but there’s one piece of equipment you really can’t do without here.
The pot used to brew Turkish coffee is known as a cezve in Turkey, and an ibrik elsewhere in the world.
Regardless of the name you use, this is a long-handled pot with a wide bottom for heat distribution. It’s also got a narrower neck which helps the coffee to foam correctly.
The cezve is commonly made from materials such as brass and copper. These are great for conducting heat, and should also ensure your cezve provides many years of good service too.
There are some very ornate pots on the market, but if you’re just getting started I would start with something that’s more affordable than it is fancy.
This really is an intensely bitter coffee experience, and it’s worth trying it out first before spending a lot of money!
The Turkish coffee method requires you to grind the beans down to an ultra-fine consistency. It should 15 times finer than you’d want to achieve for an espresso shot, for example.
The end result should be something that feels more like flour than coffee grounds.
Because of the extreme fineness that’s required, a blade grinder really won’t get the job done here.
You won’t achieve anything close to the correct consistency if you use one of these, and certainly not without negatively impacting the quality of the coffee.
A burr grinder, on the other hand, is perfect for the job. If you already own one, check to see if it has a dedicated setting for Turkish coffee.
Many of the best burr grinders have this function included. If yours doesn’t though, just work to the finest setting it’s capable of.
If that’s not fine enough though, then it might be worth upgrading to a more advanced grinder that can accommodate this brewing method.
Again, see if you develop a taste for this very bitter drink first though. That way you won’t waste money needlessly.
Another option, of course, is to buy pre-ground coffee that’s been specifically prepared for use with Turkish coffee brewing.
This is always going to be a bit of a trade-off though. It’s convenient, but the coffee won’t be as fresh and flavorful as it would be if you’d ground the beans from fresh yourself.
Fresh coffee also foams up much better during the process as well.
The term “Turkish coffee” refers to the brewing method, rather than any particular kind of coffee bean.
To achieve that dark, bitter brew though I recommend using 100% Arabica. It’s also best to start with either a light or a medium roast bean.
This is important because the coffee grounds will continue roasting during the brewing process itself. Believe me, the taste is already more than powerful enough!
I suggest using filtered water if at all possible, or bottled water if you don’t have access to a filtration system.
This is a drink to be savored, and any impurities will become pretty apparent as you work your way through your cup.
An important note when it comes to sweetness: you should never add sugar to Turkish coffee once you’ve poured it into the cups.
The reason for this is that you want those gritty coffee grounds to stay at the bottom of the drink.
If you stir the sugar in after serving, you’re going to spread the grounds around and it will not be a pleasant experience to say the least.
If you have a sweet tooth then you’ll want to add sugar at the start of the brewing process – something I cover in detail in the next section.
There are four different Turkish phrases for the amount of sugar you can add to each cup:
- Sade: No sugar
- Az sekerli: 1/2 teaspoon
- Orta sekerli: 1 teaspoon
- Sekerli: 2 teaspoons
What if you’re serving guests with different preferences though? If that’s the case then you have a couple of options:
Buy a second cezve
This isn’t ideal, as you need to pay close attention to the brewing process. This isn’t something you can set and forget!
Likewise it’s far from ideal to make two separate batches.
Turkish coffee drinking is traditionally a very social experience. You won’t want some of your guests grimacing through a cold cup after you’ve finished brewing the second round.
Serve with Turkish Delight / Baklava
A far better alternative is to serve your unsweetened Turkish coffee with a few pieces of Turkish delight.
To add a really sweet punch to the experience, you can serve it with a sticky piece of baklava instead.
Although this brewing method isn’t particularly difficult to get started with, the devil is very much in the detail. It will also take you some time to perfect the process in your own kitchen, using your own heat source.
Ultimately you’re trying to build a delicate foam on the surface of the coffee as you heat it. You’ll also need to complete this foaming process twice before serving.
It requires care and attention at all times, as you’ll need to take the pot off the heat source at very specific stages.
One thing it’s worth being very clear about here is that you should not let the coffee boil at all.
I’ve seen that word used a lot in other articles, and it is the very opposite of the delicate foaming that you’re trying to achieve!
With those words in mind, here are the steps you need to follow to make the perfect cup of Turkish coffee.
Step 1: Prepare the coffee
Grind your beans down to the correct consistency and add the sugar / spices at this stage if desired.
Step 2: Add the water to the cezve
Using a ratio of 10:1 for the water and coffee grounds, add the water to the cezve, followed by the coffee itself.
Do not stir the mixture at this point. Instead, just let the coffee settle on the surface of the water.
Step 3: First warming
Place the pot on a medium heat and begin warming it.
When the coffee begins to sink into the water, reduce the heat a little bit.
Step 4: Stir the mixture
Using a spoon, gently stir the coffee into the water until there are no more grounds left on the surface.
Step 5: Prepare the first foam
After a short amount of time you’ll notice a foam appearing around the edge of the pot.
As soon as you notice this, reduce the heat down to low.
Eventually, you’ll notice that the foam spreads across the surface of the water and begins to rise.
As soon as this happens, remove the pot from the heat and wait around 15 seconds.
Step 6: Add foam to the cups
Next, add two teaspoons of this first foam to each of the cups you’ll be serving in.
Step 7: Finish the brew
Return the pot to the stove and again heat the mixture up until the foam has risen. Remove from the heat again when it’s done so, and wait another 15 seconds.
Step 8: Serve
Very slowly pour the coffee into each cup. Try to get as much foam as you can onto the top of each serving.
Now just wait half a minute or so before drinking. This will give the grounds time to settle on the bottom of each cup.
Don’t be put off if it takes you a few attempts to get this right. It sounds simple, but it’s a more delicate process than you might think!
Spice things up a little
If you want to experiment with some new flavors once you’ve got the basics of this brewing method down, there are a few tried and tested ingredients you can add.
Popular options include cardamom, anise or cinnamon. Just a pinch will do in each case, and you can tweak from there to suit your taste buds.
Cardamon is by far the most popular spice to add, and so I’d recommend starting there.
Whichever extra spice you choose, just make sure you grind it in with the coffee beans before adding the mixture to the pot.
What should you serve with Turkish coffee?
For a truly traditional experience, you should serve each guest with a glass of water alongside their Turkish coffee.
Drinking the water first will cleanse the palate, and leave you prepared for the intense flavor of the hot drink to come!
As mentioned earlier in this guide, you may also want to provide each guest with a little bit of Turkish Delight or some baklava.
This will add some sweetness to the experience, and will also help balance out the bitterness overall.
For a bit of fun, you can even indulge in a little light fortune telling when you and your guests have finished drinking your coffee.
To get started, just turn your coffee cup upside down on the saucer once you’ve drunk enough to reach the grounds.
Let the cup cool, then turn it upright on the saucer. The grinds will leave various intriguing shapes on the cup which promise to reveal your fortunes…
Divining these signs is a topic that’s beyond the scope of an article like this. You can have a look at this excellent starter guide for a quick overview of some of the shapes and their supposed meanings.
Here’s a video you might enjoy watching as well.
Turkish coffee is a truly unique experience in the coffee world, and the inherent bitterness is not to everyone’s tastes!
Here are a few tips that might help you if you’re struggling to get the most out of your brewing.
It’s far too bitter
The extreme bitterness of Turkish coffee is simply part and parcel of the whole experience.
If you’re finding the taste a little too much though, there are a few things you can do to take the edge off things:
- Try turning the heat down a little, while still achieving that crucial foam. This will lessen the extraction of the grounds, and so reduce the bitterness.
- Brew on a higher heat to reduce the amount of time the grounds are heated for. Once the foam’s going, move quickly onto the next stage of the process.
I’m having problems getting the foam just right
Although simple in principle, this is a brewing skill that’s going to take some time to master.
The instructions for making Turkish coffee are very generally applicable, but much will depend on the stove you have in your kitchen.
It’s a case of experimentation and perseverance here.
Try adjusting the heat on your own stovetop – either higher or lower – each time until you get the results you want.
How often should I clean the cezve?
It’s important that you give the pot a good rinsing out after each brew, but don’t worry about scrubbing the thing.
Giving it a good wash will also ensure that any remaining sugar will be removed before preparing the next brew. That will be much better for your next attempt if you want it unsweetened.
Do I really need to use high-quality coffee beans?
Yes, and perhaps more so than with any other coffee brewing method we’ve covered on Viva Flavor!
There’s simply no hiding place for the sheer strength of flavor when it comes to this kind of coffee brewing.
If you use low-grade coffee beans, you’ll get a powerfully low-grade cup of coffee…
There you have it! That should be everything you need to get started with the art of traditional Turkish coffee brewing.
Too bitter for your tastes? Too fiddly to make? Let us know how you got on with this method in the comments.