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How to Drink Turkish Coffee Like an Istanbul Local


A person brews Turkish coffee in Istanbul. Photo: franz12 / Shutterstock
Hi, I'm Jen!

Vermont travel writer Jen Rose Smith covers adventure, remote places, and traditional cuisine from a home base in the Green Mountains. Her articles have appeared in National Geographic Adventure, American Way, Nexos, Condé Nast Traveler, Backpacker, AFAR, Rolling Stone, USA Today, and Outside Online.

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The aroma of Turkish coffee drew me even deeper into Istanbul’s maze-like Grand Bazaar, where I’d wandered after an afternoon of sightseeing. I followed it straight to a traditional café packed with locals sipping from tiny glasses. I slipped into a corner table, using my phrasebook Turkish to order a cup: “kahve, lütfen,” I said. Coffee, please.

With a slight bow, the waiter set down a foam-topped cup of coffee and a cube of Turkish delight—no takeout cups here. “The pace at a Turkish coffee shop is very relaxed,” says Robyn Eckhardt, the author of the cookbook Istanbul and Beyond. “You come, you sit down, and you’re prepared to take time for a cup of coffee.” Slowing down to the pace of coffee shop culture will earn you a taste of tradition. UNESCO added Turkish coffee to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013, and coffee remains a delicious part of daily life in Istanbul.


Where to find the best Turkish coffee in Istanbul

You can order a coffee in cafés and restaurants across the city, but not all cups are created equal. The best Turkish coffee is made with freshly ground coffee, which helps produce rich aromas and a lush layer of foam, similar to the crema atop well-made espresso. Among Eckhardt’s favorites is Sark Kahvesi, an atmospheric shop inside the Grand Bazaar that’s decked with polished copper and traditional textiles. For coffee quality alone, however, she heads to Mandabatmaz in Beyoglu, which is legendary for the thick foam that tops each cup.

Sark Kahvesi is a popular coffee spot inside Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. Photo: istanbulphotos / Shutterstock

How to order a Turkish coffee

Ordering a Turkish coffee is the ideal time to practice your language skills—just a few key words can ensure you get the perfect pour. Start with the basics. Coffee is kahve (pronounced "kah-VEY"), but as filtered coffee and espresso are increasingly popular in Istanbul, it’s a good idea to specify Türk kahvesi, or Turkish coffee. Next, you’ll need to decide how much sugar you want, since Turkish coffee is sweetened before serving.

  • Sade kahve: No sugar
  • Az şekerli: Just a little bit of sugar
  • Orta şekerli: Medium amount of sugar
  • Şekerli: Lots of sugar

Fortune telling with Turkish coffee

Don’t toss the thick grounds on the bottom of your cup; reading the future in coffee grounds has been a Turkish tradition for centuries. To peer into the future after your final sip, swirl the grounds around the cup, then turn it upside-down onto the saucer. Fortune tellers can then read the patterns left behind, interpreting swirls and streaks of grounds. If you’d like to experience the tradition, head to Melekler Kahvesi in Taksim. Not that you need to make a special trip. These days, Istanbul locals take matters into their own hands with an app that can be used to send photos of coffee grounds to on-call fortune tellers.

Turkish coffee pots, known as ibriks or cezves, at an Istanbul market stall
A ibrik or cezve, which Turkish coffee is brewed in, is a great souvenir for coffee lovers. Photo: franz12 / Shutterstock

Turkish coffee from bean to cup

Brewing Turkish coffee is an ancient tradition—here’s how it goes from fresh beans to Istanbul cafés.

  • Roasting: Arabica coffee beans are roasted to a deep, rich brown, which deliver full flavor and low acidity.
  • Grinding: Turkish coffee is ground to a fine powder that’s hard to achieve at home. Stop by a shop at the Spice Bazaar or Grand Bazaar to pick up pre-ground bags.
  • Brewing: Coffee is added to water—and optional sugar—in a small metal pot called a cezve, and heated until a thick foam appears. The most traditional Istanbul cafés may even brew coffee over hot sand or glowing coals.
  • Drinking: Grounds aren’t filtered out of Turkish coffee. Instead, pause for a minute before drinking to allow them to settle. Take your final sip with care to avoid a mouth full of grounds.

More local culinary experiences in Istanbul

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Hi, I'm Jen!

Vermont travel writer Jen Rose Smith covers adventure, remote places, and traditional cuisine from a home base in the Green Mountains. Her articles have appeared in National Geographic Adventure, American Way, Nexos, Condé Nast Traveler, Backpacker, AFAR, Rolling Stone, USA Today, and Outside Online.

Keep exploring
See all Istanbul tours
2,322 tours & tickets
Things to do in Istanbul
See all things to do in Istanbul
The Odessa Passage arcade in Odessa, Ukraine.
10 of The Most Historic Shopping Arcades in Europe