Steeped in time-honored rituals and tradition, the history of Turkish coffee goes way back to around 1555. There are numerous theories as to the origin of this distinctive beverage, with some claiming it originated in Yemen where it was known as ‘qahwaw’ and others insisting it originated in the city of Kaffa in Ethiopia. Although the origins have not been definitively traced and several of the rituals are not observed any more today, all of it remains a huge part of the legend and lore of this trademark Turkish beverage.
According to the oldest records, the Syrian traders first introduced coffee to Turkey in 1555. At that time the berries were eaten directly or they were eaten after mixing the crushed or ground berries with animal fat.
Later a new way of consuming the berries was discovered – they were fermented and then used in the preparation of a beverage. The new version of the drink found favor amongst the royal coffee makers or ‘kahveciusta’. These coffee makers were often summoned to serve coffee to the Turkish sultans. This was no ordinary ‘pour out the coffee and leave’ formality. When a kahveciusta was called upon to serve coffee to the Turkish sultan it entailed a ceremony so elaborate it required the assistance of no less than 40 helpers or servants as they were called.
Young Turkish girls received intensive training in the right way to prepare Turkish coffee right from a very early age. When they reached a marriageable age, potential husbands would actually judge their potential to be a ‘good wife’ based on their expertise in the art of coffee making. Those who mastered the skill and were capable of serving up a cup of coffee that was worthy of the suitors who came visiting, had a better chance of finding a husband.
At one point in Turkish history, coffee became such a prominent part of the Turkish lifestyle that many people built special rooms that were dedicated just for drinking coffee in their home. As people began spending more time in their coffee rooms and less time in the mosques, the Ottoman government began to feel threatened as they believed that people were using this socialization to question and challenge the local government and its doctrines. However, despite shutting down the coffee houses, declaring coffee illegal and even punishing those who were caught drinking coffee, the government could not clamp it down totally. Coffee drinking continued. With time, the notorious ‘coffee laws’ were abolished and people began drinking their favorite brew right out in the open without fear of being punished. Today, serving and drinking coffee is an intrinsic part of Turkish life.