Turkish coffee

Turkish coffee

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
3 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

Café culture in the Middle East is largely men’s business. Anyone who has ever visited this region, where alcohol is often prohibited, will be aware of how central cafes are to men’s daily lives. They spend many long hours sitting at tables – alone or with friends – sipping small cups of fierce black coffee, puffing on water pipes, playing backgammon or cards, arguing, reading the papers, watching the telly or listening to the radio. Any excuse to linger will do, at any time of day of night!

Hospitality in the home is also unthinkable without coffee. A visitor’s arrival is the cue to prepare fresh coffee, which is then brought to the guest and poured with much ceremony from elegant long-handled pots into tiny china cups. Coffee is always drunk very strong, usually sweet, and often flavoured with cardamom seeds or orange-blossom water. When coffee is served the goodies come out also – no self-respecting Arabic housewife would be without a tin of buttery little raybeh biscuits, or perfumed, nut-stuffed ma’amoul, and of course on special occasions there is always a huge range of sticky sweet pastries to be sampled.

If you are lucky, when the coffee is finished someone will suggest a reading of the cups. The empty cups are turned over and the dregs allowed to trickle down the insides and dry. The resulting patterns usually predict imminent romance, vast wealth, or hordes of children, depending on one’s circumstances!

Originating in Ethiopia, the wild coffea arabica bush is believed to have been cultivated by African tribesmen from the sixth century AD, where it was enjoyed for its stimulating properties – rather in the same way that we enjoy it today. It is likely that at first the berries were just chewed, and then later on they were crushed to a wet paste and infused with water. Later still, a more sophisticated coffee drink was made by fermenting the juice from the ripe berries. However, the modern drink, as we know it, was not invented until the thirteenth century, when beans were cleaned and roasted before infusing. Despite all manner of fancy coffee-making contraptions which litter our kitchens nowadays, in Middle Eastern households they still make coffee by pulverising the roasted beans to a powder and combining it with boiling water to make the strong infusion we call Turkish (or Arabic) coffee.

From Ethiopia, the use of coffee spread across the Red Sea to Aden in Yemen and its popularity swept rapidly through Arabia. By the sixteenth century, its consumption had become fashionable in Mecca, Damascus and Constantinople, where the first true coffee house was established in 1554. It is not hard to see why coffee was such an immediate hit in these intensely religious Muslim lands where alcohol was forbidden. In fact, our word ‘coffee’ comes from the Turkish word ‘kahveh’, which itself comes from the old Arabic word for wine, ‘kahwah’. Denied the real thing, Muslims had to invent a new drink. Coffee was so popular in Constantinople, according to the French food writer Alexander Dumas in his Dictionnaire de Cuisine, ‘that the imams complained their mosques were empty while the coffee houses were always full.’

Selecting and storing turkish coffee

Chez Malouf, one is just as likely to enjoy a cup of instant coffee or to jiggle a teabag in a mug, but as a special treat Greg will make Turkish coffee. We tend to choose a popular Lebanese blend – from a Middle Eastern grocer – which is already flavoured with cardamom seeds. However, there are many different types of Turkish and Arabic coffees available, and it is a good idea to try different ones to find the brand you like. Otherwise, any dark roasted coffee beans will be quite acceptable (perhaps Mocha beans from Yemen for the sake of authenticity) and additional flavourings (like cardamom or cinnamon) can be added later on.

If you prefer to let the store grind the coffee beans for you, then make sure you ask for the very finest grind possible – it should end up being closer to a fine powder than the coarser grind we use for European methods of coffee-making. One thing to avoid above all, though, are the instant powdered versions of so-called Turkish coffee available from supermarkets. They just don’t come anywhere near the real thing!

As with all good quality coffee, the oil content means that it will deteriorate over time. Coffee beans and ground coffee should be stored in the refrigerator or in the freezer.

Recipes in this Chapter

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