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The Rise of Turkish Coffee Houses

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Despite having permeated the neighboring Middle East, Turkey was a relatively slow adopter of coffee. But the Turks more than made up for it. The expansion of the Ottoman Empire, and the encompassing of vast swaths of Arab-Muslim lands, forcibly introduced coffee to the Turks, who partook of the drink with a vengeance.

Quick to spot a profitable trend, two Syrian entrepreneurs started the first coffee houses in Istanbul in 1554. They decorated them with the finest furniture and impressive interiors. Their stylish couches and comfortable carpets became the watering holes for Turkish students, chess lovers, and poets. The trend of upscale coffee houses in medieval Istanbul had taken off, sometimes to the dismay of the more pious Muslims of the time. They were richly decorated, featuring luxurious cushions and professional singers and dancers to entertain the patrons.

After the rise of new establishments, Turkish coffee shops were packed. It's unclear on the social status of patrons: some arguable it was the lower rungs of society that frequented coffee houses while other historians contended that they appealed to all levels of society. Clearly, there must have been coffee houses that catered to each sector of society. What's noteworthy is that Turkish legal professionals often patronized coffee houses because they were an ideal place for networking. There they had the opportunity to meet traveling judges in Constantinople looking for work, other legal professionals, and teachers of the sciences and arts. Even high ranking officers of the Sultan were known to stop in from time to time. Even traveling European reporters and doctors took note of the social dynamism in Turkish coffee houses.

But coffee consumables did not just take place at cafés. It became a staple of the Turkish diet and could be found in almost every Turkish home. A French traveler once remarked, “As much money must be spent in private families of Constantinople for coffee as for wine at Paris”

Clearly, coffee has a deep and long-lived connection to Turkish culture. In fact, this impact is so noted, that coffee lovers the world over know the distinct texture, taste, and ritual of Turkish coffee. Interestingly, the same social customs revolving around coffee are just as relevant in modern American and European coffee houses as they were in 16th century Turkey!

Source by Heather Bingham

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