Turkish Coffee, Armenian Coffee: Either Way the Best Caffeinated Treat
Coffee is the penultimate treat just about anywhere you visit (sorry, ice cream is the best guilty pleasure, as I mentioned months ago). In Europe, coffee is the test of efficiency as baristas quickly churn out espressos in train stations from Madrid to Helsinki. Europeans laugh at North Americans, especially us Yanks, at our affection for drip coffee--but the proliferation of high-quality beans have advanced American coffee culture from the 50 cent styrofoam cup of coffee of twenty years ago to the $3 cup of coffee from which Starbucks built an empire and legions of imitators. Across the Pacific, tony coffee houses in Seoul, Tokyo, and Hong Kong allow friends to catch up on each others’ lives over expensive cups of brew. The best coffee, however, is Turkish coffee. Armenians will cry foul at that moniker, as Armenian coffee is the perfect ending for a meal whether you are in Glendale or Yerevan. Greek coffee at a Plaka cafe after traipsing about the Acropolis is a nice cap after a day playing tourist. Whatever country you may be in, just be sure to name the coffee based on what it is called within that country’s borders. Political sensitivities aside, however, most experts agree that the coffee bean made its way from Ethiopia to Cairo and Mecca, and eventually, to Istanbul--where coffee culture then started to thrive. Hence the general term, “Turkish coffee.” Since then the muddy brew has become an integral part of cultures in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa. It goes by countless names: sourj in Armenian, kahve in Turkey, kafe turke in Kosovo and Albania, and turksa kava in Croatia. Preparation varies, but the general rule is to boil water in a cesve, add about a spoonful of pulverized coffee and teaspoon of sugar, and serve the viscous yet fragrant sludge into a demitasse. Some coffee drinkers prefer that their coffee is made with a few cardamom pods; the sweetness level varies by taste and where you are traveling; in the Balkans, sugar cubes are generally offered on the side. The type of bean used really does not matter--but the grinding method has the most impact on how good your kava turns out. Most supermarket coffee grinders display a “Turkish coffee” option, but the resulting grind is often not suitable. The coffee must be almost the consistency of cocoa powder. If you live in the Los Angeles area, an Armenian grocery store most likely sells sourj coffee in the deli section: ask for it “half and half” and you will be set. The best Turkish coffee, however, is in Bosnia. Walk into a cafe in Sarajevo or Mostar and treat yourself to a bosanska kahva. You will have your own cesve to pour into your cup at your own pace. But even better is that your coffee will be served with a couple pieces of lokum, the chewy “Turkish delight” that is the perfect complement for your deep strong view. After the culinary treat comes a cultural lesson. If you are lucky enough to know someone who can tell your fortune from your coffee cup, you are in for a treat--or nightmare. Nevertheless, whether you want your fortune told or not, after you develop a taste for Armenian, Greek, or Turkish coffee, it will be hard to go back to the kind served in a paper cup that is wrapped in a cardboard sleeve. A version of this article is on Open Salon. Special thanks to Tina Martinez for the great shot of the Armenian coffee cup in a Silver Lake kitchen.