How the Ottomans brought coffee to Europe: Bloody battles, bans and brews
A drink steeped in historyMentions of coffee in history can be found as far back as 800 BC, where the plant was referred to by Homer and in Arabian legends. But it’s likely that the plant originated from Ethiopia, where it was ground and used to make dough. It was only when the plant was exported to Yemen in the 15th century that it became the beverage that we know today. From there, it spread to Cairo and Mecca and on to Turkey, where the first coffee shop opened in 1555, in Istanbul.
The very first brewLegend has it that the use of coffee as a beverage was discovered by Sheikh Hassan Sazeli, who boiled coffee beans on a journey to Mecca in 1258. Coffee sellers embrace the sheikh as their patron saint, and in the final decades of the Ottoman Empire, every coffee shop had a banner proclaiming “O his Holiness Sheikh Sazeli”.
Coffee/kahveYou could say that the Turks invented coffee as we know it. When coffee reached Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) in the 16th century, the Ottomans developed a new brewing method: they roasted the beans over a fire, ground them and then gently boiled them in water over the fire. They called the drink “kahve”, the origin of the word we use today.
Illicit substanceIn the mid 16th century, coffee’s stimulating nature saw it outlawed in Constantinople. Devout Muslims were behind the ban, and a fatwa against drinking coffee was issued. When ships loaded with coffee beans sailed into the port, the cargo was dumped into the sea. However, the fatwa was largely ignored, and everyone kept brewing coffee as normal, until the end of the century when the official ban was lifted.
Europe’s coffee crazeThe Turks began to export their favourite beverage around Europe. In 1669 the Turkish Ambassador introduced coffee to the Parisian court of Louis XIV. England wasn’t far behind, and the timing was good as a 17th century craze for all things Turkish (such as Turkish baths and imported flowers) meant that coffee was eagerly received.
Heroism brings coffee to ViennaThis thrilling tale of heroism and espionage deserves to be remembered. In 1683 the 300,000-strong Ottoman army surrounded Vienna, laying the grand city to siege. With an Austrian army of 33,000 defending the city, odds didn’t look good for the Viennese.
However, help came in the form of a young Pole named Franz Kolschitzky. Kolschitzky had lived in Istanbul and was fluent in Turkish. Donning the uniform of the Turkish army, he slipped behind enemy lines and managed to gather enough strategic information to allow the Austrians to attack. The Turks fled, leaving everything behind – including 500 sacks of green coffee beans. No one knew what to do with them – except our hero Franz Kolschitzky, who went on to open the first Viennese coffee house, adding cream and honey to the beverage to cater to Viennese tastes. Today a Viennese coffee (coffee topped with cream) is an homage to the first coffees brewed in the Austrian capital.
A uniquely Turkish drinkThe customs and traditions that exist around coffee in Turkey might seem unusual to an outsider.
Turks serve a small glass of water with coffee. It’s thought that swilling a little water will clear your tastebuds, allowing you to experience the most flavour possible from your drink.
Is he worth his salt?
In Turkey, coffee is such an integral part of life it’s even tied to matrimony. Traditionally, to determine the “manhood” of a future groom, a bride will make a cup of coffee laced with salt – using a lot to indicate she’s not interested, or a little to show she is. If the suitor drinks the whole cup, he proves his willingness to marry.
Turkish coffee is unfiltered. Tradition dictates there must be enough coffee grounds left at the bottom of the cup to be able to tell one’s fortune. If there isn’t enough, you’ve been served a substandard cup.
To get a glimpse into your future, turn your empty cup upside down onto the saucer and leave it for a few minutes. The grounds that run onto your saucer are then read, revealing what’s in store for the future.
Protected under UNESCOTurkish coffee is actually a protected item – since 2013 it’s been included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
How to make Turkish coffee like the prosThick, muddy Turkish coffee is certainly an acquired taste. It’s almost strong enough to walk by itself, and rendered drinkable with lots of sugar and accompanying Turkish delight.
- A cezve (if you don’t have a cezve - the long handled copper pots used to make coffee - seek out a sturdy saucepan
- Turkish coffee (this will be typically finely ground, almost like icing sugar)
- Spices like cardamom and cinnamon, if desired
1. Add water to the cezve, around 50ml per cup of coffee.
2. Add sugar to taste, stirring to dissolve.
3. When the water boils, remove from heat, adding a teaspoon of coffee per cup. Add spices at this point, if desired.
4. Return to boil. When foam appears on top of the brew, skim the foam from the top of the water, mix well and return to boil.
5. After a minute, take off the heat and leave to sit for a couple of minutes, allowing the powder to settle at the bottom of the cezve. There will be a little remaining foam on the top of the coffee – this is the sign of a good brew, and helps the drink stay warm.
6. Pour into small cups and serve.