Words + photos by Chris Clemens
The specialty coffee and “Third Wave” scenes have been explored by local food writers, but there’s one niche coffee scene that doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves: Turkish coffee.
After trying Turkish coffee two decades ago, I became enamored with the bold flavors. Ever since, I’ve attempted to supplement my coffee knowledge and experience by learning as much as I can. Luckily, there are a few great places here in Rochester to experience all the strength and culture of “kah-vesi.”
Whether you’re looking to expand your palate or you’re an epicurean explorer looking to take things to the next level, our local Turkish coffee scene should be your next adventure.
What makes Turkish coffee so notable is the preparation. Rather than hot water percolating or filtering through coffee grounds, Turkish coffee is actually boiled.
Coffee beans are pulverized to a fine powder, then added to a traditional device known either as a “cezve” or “ibrik.” Water, and sometimes sugar, is added to the powder. The cezve is placed on a heat source like a flame or a burner. In traditional street cafes, Turkish coffee is sometimes cooked by placing the cezve in hot sand. The entire concoction is then allowed to slowly simmer until it bubbles to a frothy, dark brown coffee.
Sugar and Spice
In my experience, one the greatest variables between serving styles is how sugar is used. While traditional Turkish coffee is not sweetened at all, some cafes will offer the option of sugar.
You also will encounter a Turkish coffee with a hint of spice. Cardamom is the most prominent, but you may also pick up notes of nutmeg, cinnamon or even cloves, depending on the brand. (Cream or milk is rarely an option.)
There are plenty of regional variations on Turkish coffee. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have a similar method for brewing, but in these countries, a cezve is not used. (There is a Greek version, but the largest difference there is in the name, which stems from a politically charged and contentious history.) Bosnian coffee is similar to Turkish, but just before the boil a bit of coffee is removed and used later to make another pot of coffee.
Much like in the United States, coffee is part of the daily routine in Turkey. However, it is also part of important traditions. Turkish brides-to-be sometimes even serve coffee to their suitor, purposefully dousing it with salt. If he finishes the coffee gracefully, regardless of it being terrible, he’s thought to have the right temperament for being a caring husband.
And, much like tea leaves in other cultures, it is tradition to read one's fortune in the sludgy grounds remaining at the bottom of the cup.
WHERE TO FIND TURKISH COFFEE AROUND TOWN
Java’s // 16 Gibbs Street
One of the city’s oldest coffee shops is the first place I encountered Turkish coffee. Java’s brews their Turkish coffee in a traditional copper cezve, but they do add sugar. Their menu describes it as “...sweet as love.” If you’re concerned your foray into the world of Turkish coffee should be a bridge between the familiar and adventurous, this is probably a good place to start. (~$5.50)
As Evi Turkish Cuisine // 315 Ridge Road
This Middle Eastern eatery is one of the few places I’ve been asked how much sugar I wanted (the other was a hookah lounge in Florida). Rather than in a cezve, this will arrive in a small, decorative demitasse cup. It pairs well with one of their sweet treats like baklava or a pistachio Turkish Delight. (~$3)
Cafe 35 // 400 Jefferson Road
The folks at Cafe 35 insist the best way to drink Turkish coffee is either with very little or no sugar, and paired with a sweet chocolate on the side. The candy coated milk chocolate does provide a great contrast to the bold flavor of their Turkish coffee. They also have it already poured, and it comes in a porcelain demitasse that rests in a decorative metal cup with a lid. (~$3.99)
Cafe 35 is also the first place I’ve ever seen Turkish coffee offered with milk. (~$4.50)
Radio Social // 20 Carlson Road
To accompany their authentic Israeli menu, Radio Social in the North Winton Village offers Turkish coffee. Their standard offering is about a 1:1 ratio between sugar and coffee, giving the final drink a nice balance of strong coffee and sweetness. (~$6)
- Each year in August, the Turkish Society in Gates hosts a cultural festival. Traditional food, coffee, dancing and arts makes for a full weekend where all are welcome.
- The Turkish Cultural Center provides different learning opportunities to the public. They have social meetings, cooking classes, and even a coffee class.
- There are also many international markets around the Rochester area where you can buy a set up to brew at home. The folks at the International Food Market at 376 Jefferson Road in Henrietta are helpful and have a large selection of bagged coffee to bring home.
- Halal Market and Meats is conveniently located right next to As Evi Turkish Cuisine and they also have a great selection coffees and cevzes to get you started.