June 13, 2018

The perfect cup of Turkish Coffee?

Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love goes the Turkish proverb describing a perfect cup of Turkish coffee. After 20 years of trial and error I’ve finessed it down to a pretty good cup of Turkish. Not sure I’ve had one better, but I’m open if one comes along. Here’s my method:

The bean.

I start with a touch more than 2 tablespoons of medium-roast, whole-bean Arabica coffee. After much fussing, I’ve settled on pedestrian, whole-bean 8 O’Clock Coffee in the standard red bag or the whole-bean Illy Medium Roast, if you want a slightly bolder cup. Note that the pot you use and cooking time will greatly affect flavor, so try various beans to see what gives you a bold, smooth cup.

If you feel the need for a fresher bean, the caution is that most roasters don’t understand what Turkish Coffee is. That overroasted “Turkish grind” (that they likely can’t grind fine enough) from your local place can be a real disappointment, even when it’s roasted today and fresh ground.

Arabica beans are superior to the Robusta beans and roasting plays a big role in the flavor. Medium roast has a fuller coffee flavor, compared to both a light and dark roast and also retains more caffeine than dark does.

The grind.

I grind the beans into a fine powder in a burr grinder. A good, hand-crank, burr grinder rips the beans apart as opposed to cutting them. I use a Zassenhaus Havanna. It’s a brass workhorse that will give you years of service and has a 25-year guarantee on the hardened-steel burrs.

Some speculate that ripping releases more flavor than cutting. For sure, the powdery consistency (fine as cocoa) of a burr grind for Turkish Coffee exposes more bean surface area to the water so you get more flavor. Also, the heat created by electric-blade grinders can rob coffee of its taste. Grinding fresh is a necessity and its best to grind just enough for each pot you make.

The secret ingredients of Turkish Coffee.

Brewing Turkish Coffee with sugar thickens it and helps mute any bitterness. I use 1-2 tablespoons of Sugar In The Raw per pot. The large grains take longer to dissolve at the bottom of the pot and start to caramelize better than refined sugar. This enriches the flavor of the coffee.

I also use a healthy dash of fresh ground, green cardamon, which is traditional to add to Turkish Coffee in many countries. In addition to a flavor that blends flawlessly with coffee, cardamom soothes bitterness. Deep brand (available in Indian groceries) is excellent. I use this Kyocera mill for the cardamon. Tip: Fresher ground cardamon seeds will smell more sweet and peppery than piney.

The pot.

I add these all ingredients to a thick, tapered Turkish pot called a Jezve or Ibrik. The narrowed top of the pot helps to create foam that holds in the flavor. Traditional tin-lined copper pots were once preferred for their even heating, but the more-modern clad stainless steel work just as well. You can use a butter warmer, provided it tapers at the top. The method here is for a 12 oz. pot. Having the pot near full creates better foam, retains the flavor and settles the grounds better. As mentioned above the pot can have a big effect on flavor, so once you’ve selected a pot, you’ll need to find the bean that tastes best.

The water.

I add a little cold filtered tap water (I use a Brita Filter) and stir the ingredients until pasty to make sure the coffee, cardamom and sugar get properly mixed. (You want the ingredients blended so there’s no dry coffee floating on top.) Making a paste also helps to release carbon dioxide trapped in the grounds. Then I add more until I have 10 oz. of water well-stirred in the pot.

The heat.

I put this on a medium heat on an electric stove. (You’ll want to use low heat if using a gas stove.) You want the coffee to cook slowly to caramelize the sugar, and get the full flavor from the beans, but not boil away the foam. The edges of the foam on top will start to swell when done. This should take 10-20 minutes. If the heat is too high you can burn the fine-grind of the beans, which can make the coffee bitter and taste like cigarette ashes.

How to stir.

The traditional method for Turkish Coffree is to cook the coffee almost to a boil three times. Instead I stir twice during cooking, at four minutes into the brewing (to help remove any grounds from the foam), and about two minutes before it’s done (to keep the heat more uniform throughout the pot and runs less risk of burning the coffee). Once done, remove from heat and don’t stir any more.

In many cultures, the foam is scooped into the cups, with the guest of honor getting the most. Let the pot sit for three minutes before pouring. This helps settle the grounds. Tip: A few drops of cold water or a sliver of ice will settle the grounds quickly.

How to serve.

2 oz. ceramic Turkish cups are nice for serving, but espresso cups work fine. Pour slowly into the cup and more grounds will stay at the bottom of the pot in the pot. This method makes four, 2 oz. cups.

Turkish Coffee is often served with baklava, a cookie or Turkish delight and accompanied by a glass of water. The water cleanses the palate and makes the next sip more flavorful. Once the cup is empty, then comes the fortune-telling from your grounds. (Maybe a topic for another time.)

I didn’t talk about the hundreds of variations I’ve tried that led me here. Many of my methods above break with the tradition of how someone’s dear, sweet Jadda used to make it. But I urge you to try the above and see if you don’t agree this gives you a smoother, more-flavorful cup.

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