by Ayhan ÖZER

Coffee was discovered in the 10th century in Ethiopia. It traveled first to the Arabian Peninsula and to Yemen.  In 1517, Yemen came under the Turkish rule; its Governor was Ozdemir Pasha.
He brought coffee to Istanbul, and introduced it to the Palace and then to the high society. Up until then, tea was the only popular hot drink.

In addition to tea, in some mansions (Konak) cold sherbets made of sweetened fruit juices had also been served to house guests; however, a tea-kettle was always on the fire, ready for serving. In wealthy mansions other than tea kettles, handsome metal urns with spigots called  “Samovar” were used to boil water for tea. They were of Russian origin, and the name is Slavic/Russian, meaning  “to boil”. Samovars came to Turkey through the Russian republics in Caucasia. In that region tea is consumed abundantly.  To heat water, samovars contained a heart at the bottom for burned coal. At the top there was a place for the tea kettle to sit to keep warm.

Coffee proved to be a worthy alternative to tea. It too had a social dimension.  Sipping leisurely a tasty hot brew in company stimulated conversation, and it became an ambiance builder. In cities, among women a custom called “coffee-klatches” took hold. They are small gathering with friends for conversation and gossiping! Soon, they became popular and sprang around fast.

For men, an outlet for spending their leisure times and to socialize ”coffee-houses” phenomenon came into being. They were casual locales , similar to clubs in the European cities, and they quickly burgeoned. They conveniently  brought men folks together. Card-games, backgammon, dominoes were played widely in those coffee-houses.  Also, those coffee-houses carried several daily newspapers for the customers to read. And a new breed of cross-words puzzles fans sprung up. Some people became addicted to those puzzles which at times turned to real challenge. The puzzle aficionados claimed that they were a brain gymnastics, and helped them improve their vocabularies as well.

In Turkey, coffee-making , and the ritual of coffee drinking created a tradition.  Besides the basic taste of coffee there is a secondary level that enhances the flavor. It can be Bitter (or Dry, without any sugar) for die-hard coffee lovers; or Semi-sweet, or Sweet. They are made in small pots (cezve). The coffee cups (fincan) are small, one can drink a full cup in three or four sips.   

At house parties, coffee has to be served to guests by the hostess, or by a female member of the house. The proper way to serve coffee is on a fancy tray; two, three or four cups can be put on the same tray, each cup with its own saucer.  The guest picks up his or her coffee with its saucer.

The first coffee-house was opened in Istanbul in 1555. Europe was acquainted with coffee much later, on the occasion of a Turkish military campaign — The siege of  Vienna, the Capital of Austria, in 1683 by the Turks! This campaign failed but brought forth the coffee-drinking custom in the world. When retreating, the Turkish Army left behind a huge supply of coffee. A Viennese man who had helped the Turkish troops during the siege monopolized this coffee supply, and opened the first coffee-house in Vienna, in 1683. The custom took hold. Then the second coffee-house was opened in Paris in 1685.  

This  story is the subject of another article.  

Photo credits ©Pinperest                         

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"The U.S. Turkish Library & Museum For Friendship and Peace" project joined, and has been produced under the umbrealla of The Light Millennium Organization effective on October 15, 2015.