East Meets West

Thursday, June 15, 2006


I’ve just had an exceptionally perky and productive day that can only be attributed to the heady aroma coming out of the bag in the corner of my office. Having run out of the pound of Peet’s coffee my Mom so lovingly brought from California, I decided to head to the Spice Market and create my own blend of coffee from one of the recently opened coffee sellers.

The art of coffee drinking started in right here in Istanbul during the Ottoman days, where the world’s first coffee shop opened in 1475. There was even a law that a woman had legal 'grounds' to divorce her husband if he didn’t provide her with her daily quota of coffee. Coffee was introduced to Europe by Italian traders where it was branded as ‘the devil’s drink’ by the Pope until he tasted it himself and decided that it was too good a drink to let the ‘infidels’ (Muslims) have exclusivity of it. And soon coffee transformed from delicacy to necessity. Then, as European countries expanded their horizons (all this exploring fuelled, no doubt, by caffeine), they smuggled coffee plants out of the Arabian Peninsula and created newer cheaper sources in Asia and the Americas. The result is that the Ottoman Empire lost their monopoly over this valuable commodity, and Turkey became a nation of mostly tea drinkers.

You can still find the famous Turkish coffee everywhere, perfectly described by a Turkish proverb as being ‘Black as hell, strong as death, sweet as love’. But try sipping a few cups while reading the Sunday paper and you’ll be awake for the next few days. Nescafe is another ubiquitous option. But let’s face it – Nescafe doesn’t compare to brewed coffee.

So, feeling coffee deprived, I headed to Kahve Dunyasi (Coffee World) to check out my options. Sort of a local version of Starbuck’s, the parent company is also a coffee distributor, which means you can find every kind of coffee sold in Turkey there – from Colombian, to hazelnut flavored instant coffee, to Turkish coffee to chocolate-covered coffee beans. The fact that the guy gave me a blank look when I asked him if he had any French Roast was a sign that I may not be able to create my own signature blend of coffee here in Istanbul just yet. But judging by my euphoric day, the concoction of Colombian and Guatemalan that I did walk out of the shop with is more than good enough for now.