There’s a saying in Turkey that a cup of coffee commits you to 40 years of friendship. That’s some commitment.
I grew up with instant coffee, granules that you add to boiling water and then add milk (white coffee) or don’t (black coffee). A simple choice – black or white. When I first went to America a couple of lifetimes ago, I was completely bemused by the differentiation between filtered coffee or instant coffee, and completely confused when I went a second time to find that ordering a coffee now took serious thought. The styles: latte, espresso, frappé, cappuccino. The substance: skinny, decaf, leaded.
Today, it is even more complicated. I can have a long or short espresso (depends on how much water I add). I can add some steamed milk and upgrade to an espresso macchiato. Or I can top with whipped cream for an espresso con panna. And if I add some booze (e.g. sambuca or cognac) I can have an espresso corretto. And that’s just an espresso…I had my first Turkish coffee in Sarajevo. It’s definitely an acquired taste. I prefer mine with a little milk, which borders on sacrilegious and is not so much frowned up as simply not understood. Why would anyone want to add milk to Turkish coffee? The apologetic, wheedling smile that accompanied my request worked most of the time in Istanbul, but not always. One chap simply refused point-blank. Another turned a deaf ear and ignored the milk part. A third explained to me that it just wasn’t done. Fair enough. When in Rome and all that, I thought…but it didn’t stop me asking.
What I didn’t know though was that Turkish coffee (the culture of it rather than the actual stuff itself) is inscribed in 2013 (8.COM) on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:
Turkish coffee combines special preparation and brewing techniques with a rich communal traditional culture. The freshly roasted beans are ground to a fine powder; then the ground coffee, cold water and sugar are added to a coffee pot and brewed slowly on a stove to produce the desired foam. The beverage is served in small cups, accompanied by a glass of water, and is mainly drunk in coffee-houses where people meet to converse, share news and read books. The tradition itself is a symbol of hospitality, friendship, refinement and entertainment that permeates all walks of life. An invitation for coffee among friends provides an opportunity for intimate talk and the sharing of daily concerns. Turkish coffee also plays an important role on social occasions such as engagement ceremonies and holidays; its knowledge and rituals are transmitted informally by family members through observation and participation. The grounds left in the empty cup are often used to tell a person’s fortune. Turkish coffee is regarded as part of Turkish cultural heritage: it is celebrated in literature and songs, and is an indispensable part of ceremonial occasions.
Had I known that the grounds left in the empty cup could have been used to tell my fortune, I might be viewing the world in a whole different light today.
At the end of a week that had days I thought would never end and days that I thought ended far too soon, I’m in need of a Turkish coffee or three. I’m knackered. So much is going on that it’s hard to keep track of it all. I want to scream at the world to stop, so that I can get off for a while and disappear. But that ain’t going to happen. And while I know that it’s sleep and not stimulants that I need, this week I am grateful for the restorative power of coffee. For the rituals that it comes packaged in. And for the conversation it encourages.
To the Sufi monks in Yemen – you have my undying gratitude.