What is Turkish Coffee? (& Why It’s Special)

Written By Seren N.

Seren, a Turkish-American, has 23 years of experience traveling to and around Turkey and is now happy to help others learn more about Turkey.

A brief history of Turkish Coffee

You might be surprised to learn that Turkish Coffee actually has political roots. During the Ottoman empire, men would meet up in coffeehouses to discuss current political events and politicians, eventually leading to the temporary outlawing of these coffeehouses.

At one point in time, Turkish Coffee was also used during mystical rituals. These deviated from the traditional Islamic practices of the time, so the people who did these rituals were considered “immoral”. And when they were labeled that way by political and religious leaders, Turkish Coffee developed a bad reputation by association.

Initially, Turkish Coffee wasn’t welcomed in Europe either! A lot of people viewed it as an “unchristian” drink. Mark Twain, author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, even said “Of all the unchristian beverages that have ever passed my lips, Turkish Coffee is the worst”.

After around the 18th century, Turkish Coffee gradually became more and more accepted outside of Turkey. As people realized it gave them mind clarity and energy (instead of making them disoriented and incoherent as alcohol did), opinions shifted. Especially in England, many coffeehouse owners started naming their shops Turk’s Head, Sultan’s Head, or other names of well-known Ottoman rulers.

Once viewed as a Satanic drink (by the British) and as a drink resulting in political gossip and rumors (by the Ottoman empire elite), Turkish Coffee is now beloved and enjoyed all over the world by people of all colors, nationalities, and ethnicities.

What’s special about Turkish Coffee?

Turkish Coffee is not only a delicious cup of coffee, but it also brings strangers and family together. It’s popular for Turkish people from all walks of life to take a break from the hustle and bustle of life to enjoy a cup while chatting with friends or family.

It’s known for its strong taste, slightly thick texture, small serving size, historical and cultural significance, and the unique way it’s traditionally made. Try it for yourself here from Amazon (you can easily make it at home!).

It’s pretty much always served on special occasions like birthdays, engagement ceremonies, holidays, and special gatherings. When you visit a friend’s home, they’ll almost always offer you a Turkish Tea or Turkish Coffee as a friendly, polite gesture.

Turkish Coffee is so popular in Turkey that there are now thousands of coffeehouses all over Turkey serving up thousands of cups every single day. In major cities and towns, you literally can’t go more than 15 minutes without seeing a café or coffeehouse. Traditionally, you’ll see only men occupying the coffeehouses. This tradition is leftover from the Ottoman empire when men would meet in coffeehouses to talk about the political affairs and politicians at the time.

In 2013, UNESCO added Turkish coffee to its UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List, further solidifying its importance to Turkish culture and heritage.

Is Turkish Coffee stronger than regular coffee?

Yes, Turkish Coffee is much stronger than regular coffee. Because all the coffee grounds in Turkish coffee aren’t ever removed, you’re basically drinking coffee concentrate. Not only is the taste stronger, but the caffeine is much stronger, too.

In about 1.4oz of Turkish coffee (a traditional cup), there’s an average of 165 mg (milligrams) of caffeine.

In 8oz of regular coffee, there’s an average of 95 mg (milligrams) of caffeine.

If you were to drink 8oz of Turkish coffee, that’d be a whopping 943 mg of caffeine!

That’s more than DOUBLE the maximum amount of caffeine that the U.S. FDA advises you to have in ONE day.

What does Turkish Coffee have in it?

Traditionally, Turkish Coffee has finely ground (almost powder-like) coffee, water, and based on the desired taste it can have levels of sugar: no sugar, light sugar, medium sugar, or sugary (the highest amount of sugar).

Never put milk or creamer in your Turkish Coffee! That would almost be offensive or sacrilegious. It’s totally not meant to have milk or creamer in it and that would ruin the classic taste.

Turkish Coffee is typically served with a cup of water and a couple of chocolates or pieces of Turkish Delight. The water is to help cleanse your palette as you sip the coffee and for afterwards if you want to lessen the strong coffee taste. And of course, the sweets are to enjoy as you sip or when you’re done so you can leave with a sweet, happy impression.

Is Turkish Coffee just instant coffee?

No, Turkish Coffee may look like instant coffee, but it’s far from it. It’s actually freshly and finely ground Arabica coffee. It shouldn’t have any preservatives, natural flavors, or additives in it like you’d find in instant coffee.

If you only have instant coffee, you could probably try to make a cup using the authentic Turkish way, but you won’t be able to call your final creation Turkish Coffee. At least, please don’t. Try the best (in my opinion!) Turkish Coffee brand here to get the real deal (delivered from Amazon).

How to make Turkish Coffee

It’s honestly not that hard to make Turkish Coffee! The traditional way involves using an ibrik/cezve, but you can make it with a saucepan, too. And while a proper, traditional cup of Turkish Coffee is definitely difficult for beginners, there’s no need to complicate it if you just want a solid cup of coffee. If you’re serving a Turkish person though, you’ll want to learn the proper way because they’ll know the difference.

So what’s the proper way?

Well, the biggest difference between a proper cup of Turkish Coffee and one that wasn’t made with traditional techniques is the presence or absence of foam at the top of the coffee after it’s been poured into a cup.

If there’s a thin, complete layer of foamy bubbles on top, then congrats! You’ve done it right!

And if there’s not, that’s ok! It’s still a delicious cup of Turkish coffee you can enjoy.

Try the best Turkish Coffee brand and get a cezve here (from Amazon) – you’ll need both to make a proper cup of delicious Turkish Coffee!

Want the fully authentic experience? You’ll also need a set of traditional Turkish Coffee cups! Here’s what I recommend (from Amazon).

Where’s the best place to enjoy a good cup of Turkish Coffee?

Outside of Turkey? The best places to enjoy a gorgeous cup of Turkish Coffee are either your own home, a Turkish friend’s home, or your favorite local Turkish restaurant!

Inside of Turkey? The best places are small cafés, coffeehouses, and your Turkish friend’s home! Turkish people are known for their hospitality, so if you can make a friend while you’re there (or already have a friend!) you’ll be in for a treat!

Fortune-telling with Turkish Coffee

Whether you believe in fortune-telling or it’s just for fun, don’t miss the opportunity to get your fortune “read” through your Turkish Coffee.

In Turkey, a fortune teller is called falcı (fal – juh) and they can either be paid professionals or some Turkish people even enjoy pretending to be fortune tellers for fun for their friends and family.

As soon as you’re done drinking your cup of Turkish Coffee, what you’ll want to do is place the saucer upside down on top of the cup and then holding them together you’ll want to flip it upside down so the saucer is underneath the cup and the coffee grounds move downwards onto the saucer. After about 10 minutes, the coffee will dry and then you can separate the cup from the saucer.

Now, you should see the shapes that the dried coffee grounds created. To read yours or someone else’s fortune, pick a point inside the cup, start describing what you see and how it relates to the fortune, and start turning the cup clockwise to continue deciphering the coffee grounds. If you can tell a story as you turn the cup, that’s even more fun! Once you reach the point where you had started, that’s all! You’ve just read your first cup of Turkish coffee!

Growing up, my sister would (and still sometimes does!) love trying to decipher the leftover coffee grounds of friends and our family members – it brings back many sweet memories. Hopefully you can experience some of that joy and camaraderie that Turkish Coffee brings with your friends and family, too!