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Not only çay

written by Eleonora 28. September 2019
Not only çay

Coffee Culture & the best cafés in Cihangir, Istanbul

Where tiny tulip-shaped glasses are continuously filled with black tea, çay, you wouldn’t expect that coffee is indeed one of the institutions that made Turkey famous throughout the history. So much that every year since 2014 the Istanbul Coffee Festival gathers tons of participants to workshops and panels on roasting techniques and blending, barista sessions and tasting. This year’s edition just took place from the 19th to the 22nd of September.

Neither long americano nor “espresso”

As an Italian that has lived in Istanbul, I today understand that coffee should not only be used to stay awake. Nor that you should consider it only the fastest way to catch up with a friend. The typical Turkish coffee is almost as “ristretto” as an espresso! While the cups look similar, the temperature it is served forces you to sit down, relax and enjoy it sip by sip. The coffee will often be served with a tiny jelly covered in powder sugar. This so called “lokum” is a typical Turkish candy flavoured with fruit or rose water. It is often stuffed with pistachio or hazelnut and goes perfectly with the strong Turkish coffee.

The real Turkish coffee experience, especially to buy the one you will take back to try this at home is Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi in Eminönü. You will immediately recognize the endless line of tourists but also locals that wait there for fresh ground coffee powder. The shop is open daily from 8am to 7:30pm, so no need to rush!

How do Turks prepare their coffee?

First of all you need a so called “cezve”. You can easily find this essential copper pot in different sizes all around Istanbul. You then have to choose whether you want your coffee “sade” which is without sugar. If you like your coffee to be sweet – “orta” – add one teaspoon of sugar before anything else. For each cup of coffee add one teaspoon of coffee powder and the correspondent amount of water. Stir everything and remember this is the first and last time you do so.

Then put the cezve on fire: while the water will boil, the ground will settle at the bottom. The same happens once you serve the coffee, so make sure to leave the last sip in the cup. Unlike Italians, in fact, Turks do not raise their elbows, recline their heads and drink the coffee til the end. We recommend you to avoid drinking your coffee the “Italian-way” when enjoying a cup of Turkish coffee.

Did you ever try lokum? It's the perfect combination with a hot up of Turkish coffee.
Did you ever try lokum? It’s the perfect combination with a hot cup of Turkish coffee.

Coffee ground reading and “salty cups”

You can also turn a simple coffee break into a ritual! Wait for the empty cup to cool down by putting a coin at the bottom while it is upside down on its plate. This is the correct procedure to let someone read your coffee ground like a real “falcı”, a coffee reader. In the pre-marriage culture, instead, it is said that when the future groom would go visit his future wife’s family to ask for her hand, the bride would prepare coffee for everyone by adding salt instead of sugar… but only in the groom’s cup! He then has to drink it without complaining to show his loyalty and strong will to face any problem together.

Where to get your caffeine fix in Cihangir

On an everyday base, meeting for coffee in Istanbul means sitting and chatting for a long time. Far away from the most common coffee chains like Starbucks or Espresso lab that find two of their main branches in Taksim Square, it is worth walking down to Siraselviler caddesi till Firuzağa mosque to stroll around the heart of the closeby Cihangir district.

Cihangir is where writer and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk used to live and set most of his novels. You’ll find the famous Museum of Innocence not that far from there in the Çukurcuma area. Hipstery district, considered quite fancy by the Turks because most foreigners (and their pets) live there, the streets of Cihangir are packed with coffee places, just one next to the other. The more there are the more they open. We visited many of them and chose our favourite ones for you.

Here’s our Top 3:

1. Tea or coffee?

We were actually thinking about using this café’s name for this article’s title! Tea or coffee? is just at the corner between a colorful modern hairdresser and a bakery shop. Find a seat outside, grab one of the blue wooden chairs inside or choose the take away option.

2. 1 Kahve

1 Kahve is a popular co-working bar, since it’s quite wide and peaceful there. Also, you can easily plug your laptop everywhere. Our favourite spot is the one just in front of the big window that faces the street. Get distracted by Cihangir’s daily life right in front of you while caressing a stray cat passing through your legs. You’ll find one of the best cold brew coffees of the megalopolis here!

3. Journey

It deserves a mention for its americano, hot or cold! Spend the afternoon here and stay for dinner – switching to a glass of local wine! Their menu is the perfect mix of traditional Turkish food with an innovative twist. Also, you’ll be able to enjoy a the sunset from a different angle of the city! You’ll definitely enjoy this special orange light that kisses the typical facades of Cihangir.

We encourage you to loose track of your time and live this very special side of Istanbul. All the great coffee will definitely give you the right energy to do so!

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