Turkish coffee isn’t your average coffee brewing method. It’s a coffee brewing form that’s rich with history and culture, though it hasn’t exactly always been known for brewing high quality, flavorful coffee.
But there is a way to brew excellent Turkish Coffee worthy of the specialty coffee movement - and I want to show you it.
Starting in 2016, World Coffee Events has hosted a Cerves/Ibrik Competition. This competition avoids the word “Turkish” to avoid offending other nations that use the brewer (the pot’s actually called a cerves or ibrik), and it’s proof that the specialty coffee world can find value in Turkish coffee.
Let’s discover how to brew specialty coffee with the Turkish method.
What Is Turkish Coffee?
Turkish coffee brewing is one of the oldest forms of coffee brewing. It’s been around since the early 1400’s (whoa!). There are two discovery stories for the method, but we can’t be certain which is correct.
Story A: The Ottoman governor of Yemen discovers local coffee brewers in the ports of his region. He’s impressed with the drink and shares it with the Sultan, who gives it his seal of approval and spreads it around the empire.
Story B: Two Syrian traders arrive in Istanbul with coffee and the Turkish brewing method and open shops around the city that are based on the Yemeni coffee shop model. The Ottoman Sultan visits one of these shops, loves the drink, and endorses it.
No matter which story is the actual origin story, we know a few things for certain:
- The Turkish coffee method came to Turkey from the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen)
- The Ottoman Sultan loved the drink and encouraged its widespread enjoyment
The first coffeehouses of Istanbul were opened in around 1470 and modeled after Yemeni coffee houses. As far as we know, all the coffee was made via the Turkish Coffee brewing method.
Fun fact: a woman’s marital potential was often judged by her ability to make Turkish coffee. Even today, poor brewing skills are legal grounds for a man to divorce his wife, though we doubt that really ever happens.
The Ibrik / Cezve
Now, about the actual coffee method itself.
Turkish Coffee is made with a small pot that’s filled with very fine coffee grounds and hot water. In Turkey and nearby areas, the pot is called a cezve. In the rest of the world, it’s a ibrik.
Most Ibriks are made of copper, brass, or ceramic and have a long wooden handle. Most are simply plain metal, but some are elegantly decorated.
The pot, filled with coffee grounds and water, is held over a heat source to initiate the brewing. The result is very concentrated, sludgy, and often very bitter coffee, but we’re going to brew in a way that reduces this bitterness dramatically. We are a specialty coffee company after all.
To balance out the bitterness, it’s traditionally served with an uber-sweet delight, such as Turkish Delight or a slice of very sweet cake.
Other Names For Turkish Coffee
Though much of Eastern Europe and the Middle East used to call this method by the name Turkish Coffee, many have abandoned the name.
The Ottoman Empire, known for its brutality, especially in the Armenian Genocide, didn’t leave a very good impression on its neighbors and foreign conquered regions. When the empire fell and became Turkey, many neighboring countries changed the name.
Armenia has “Armenian Coffee”. Bosnia has “Bosnian Coffee”. And when Turkey invaded Cyprus (which was culturally, but not politically, Greek) in 1974, Turkish Coffee became “Greek Coffee” in Greece.
They’re all the same thing, but the unpopularity of the Ottoman and Turkish nations have caused them to lose their monopoly on the name.
Strengths And Weaknesses Of Turkish Coffee
Turkish coffee is being transformed by the specialty coffee movement. Yes, there actually is flavorful and balanced Turkish Coffee now, despite centuries of super-bitter tradition.
However, this method of brewing has a lot against it.
For one, the result is an intense, concentrated small amount of coffee (3-5 oz). Since there’s really no filter, it can be quite gritty - and it’s meant to be.
Secondly, hundreds of years of bitter tradition make a lot of information on the internet unhelpful. We’re looking to change that with this guide, of course.
Thirdly, it’s not the easiest brewing method to use. Even though it’s actually pretty straightforward, it can be difficult to really get the hang of. There’s quite a learning curve involved.
Maybe the challenge is worth it to you. Maybe it’s not.
Let's Find Out If This Brewing Method Is For You
Are you fascinated by exotic, old, and historically significant coffee brewing methods? Then you definitely need to try Turkish Coffee out!
Do you like easy and simple coffee when you’re tired in the mornings? Well, I can’t say Turkish Coffee is convenient at first, but it gets easier the more you practice.
Are you willing to embrace the learning curve to find your Turkish Coffee groove? Then do it!
Do you enjoy drinking small amounts of concentrated coffee? Great! That’s what Turkish Coffee is.
Are you freaked out by grit from grounds in your coffee? Yeah… stay away….
Pre-Steps and Thoughts
Always, always, always start with freshly roasted and ground coffee. This is especially true for Turkish coffee, which is far more at risk of over extraction and gross bitterness than your average coffee maker.
Fresh coffee is rich with diverse flavors and vibrant aromatics, like fruits, flowers, or spices.
The beans are only at peak freshness for 2 weeks out of the roaster. And once ground, they’re only fresh for 30 minutes. After that, the flavors decay and the coffee becomes more and more bitter.
I cannot overstate it enough: fresh coffee is always best - especially for Turkish Coffee!
Grind your beans to a fine powder. Usually, this is finer than espresso grounds! So fine, actually, that you probably won’t be able to feel individual grounds anymore.
Be precise with your coffee to water ratio. Normally, you’d use 1 gram of coffee for about 16 ml of water for balance. With Turkish coffee, you’ll use a 1:9 ratio, so it’ll be much more concentrated.
A kitchen scale will keep you from accidentally grinding more coffee than you need by enabling you to measure the exact amount of coffee you need every time.
Only use water you love. If you don’t like the water on its own, you won’t like it in the coffee. Water is 99% of your coffee, after all.
Let’s talk about boiling. No, your Turkish Coffee should never reach a boil, but it should come very close. As you brew, you want a fine foam to form on top of your coffee. This is a big mixture of air and coffee oils, but it’s not boiling.
Brewing happens in two parts. The first part is in the ibrik. The second part is in your cup. Since the coffee is so fine and the water is so hot, the coffee will still brew after you’ve poured it into your cup.
Alright, let’s get to the fun part: the brewing!
A Step-By-Step Turkish Coffee Guide
Start by collecting your tools and ingredients.
- Freshly roasted coffee
- Coffee grinder
- Delicious water
- Coffee scale
- Stirring spoon or paddle
- Heat source (gas burner, stove)
For the purposes of this guide, we’ll be brewing just 2 cups of Turkish coffee. For larger ibriks, the following steps can still be followed, just adjust the coffee and water amounts appropriately.
Preheat your stove on a low-medium setting. If you have gas burners, turn to a low heat.
Pour 120g (milliliters) of water into the 2-cup ibrik. Grind 14g of coffee to a very fine powder and pour it into the water.
Place the ibrik on the heat source and let it sit. After 30 seconds, stir the grounds into the water.
Between 1:00 and 1:30, you’ll start to see little bubbles form in the coffee. These tiny, infrequent bubbles are okay, but if they start to reach a boil, hold the ibrik up from the heat slightly.
Around 2:30, you want to have a thick foam forming in the ibrik. Raise or lower the heat as needed to hit this mark. Let the foam rise till it reaches the very top of the ibrik, then remove completely from the heat.
Quickly pour the coffee, grounds and all, into two small cups. Let the coffee sit for another 2.5 minutes to finish brewing and cool down. This resting period also allows most of the grounds to settle in the bottom of the cup.
You did it! Enjoy with a small glass of water and a sweet treat.
A Big Departure From Tradition
Traditionally, you would allow the foam to rise and fall not once, but three times by taking the ibrik off the heat source over and over again.
This is how most internet guides work, but it’s not how specialty Turkish coffee works.
Most of the winners in the annual World Cezve/Ibrik Competition do not do this. They simply allow the foam to rise at the end, just once, before pouring. I personally witnessed the 2016 World Champion, Konstantinos Komninakis, do it this way.
Many recipes also call for continuous stirring, but we find that just results in extra bitterness. If you’d like to try the multi-foaming step, go on ahead! Your coffee is your coffee - make it how you want.
Like I said, Turkish Coffee has a bit of a learning curve. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get it on attempt #1. If it’s not quite right, here are a few things to try.
If the coffee is too bitter, welcome to the club. Everyone brews bitter Turkish Coffee the first time. This means you over extracted from the grounds and you need to extract less next time. Here are a couple things you can try:
- Turn down the stove heat a bit or lift the ibrik an inch or two to slow down extraction
- Brew for less time by using a slightly higher heat to get that foam a little quicker
If the coffee is too weak, well - that’s not going to happen.
If the coffee doesn’t foam, keep playing with the heat level to find that right spot. I cannot give you specific advice on how to use your stove or burner - it’s just something you have to play with and figure out.
Give your ibrik a good cleaning after every brew to keep it brewing properly. Thankfully, this is very easy.
Simply give the ibrik a careful scrub with warm water and a towel. Don’t use soap. Don’t use an abrasive scrubber. Just a thorough rinse - nice and easy.
Brewing Turkish Coffee is quite an experience. It pulls you into the aromas, the sights, the process. It’s intense, concentrated, and full-flavored.
And we barely even talked about the social experience in this guide.
For hundreds of years, Turkish Coffee has been the centerpiece of social gatherings. So invite your friends over when you make it and enjoy time together as you appreciate one of the oldest brewing methods in the world.
Like I said earlier, Turkish Coffee is predisposed to bitterness more than other methods, so make sure you’re always using freshly roasted and ground coffee. This is so important!
The easiest way to make sure you stay stocked with specialty grade, freshly roasted beans is to sign up for our JavaPresse Coffee Club. Every two weeks we send you freshly roasted coffee that we’ve sourced from some of the best farms in the world.
Our coffees are ripe with fascinating flavors that will burst forth when brewed in your ibrik. Check out the subscription!