Istanbul’s coffee obsession began sometime around 1555, and is still going strong over four hundred years later, with new coffee houses regularly opening up, all over the city.
This ancient drink became wildly popular during the rule of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent who first tasted it when stationed in Yemen.
When the prestigious Ottoman palace chefs received a bag of these beans, they tried various methods of grinding and brewing, finally transforming the drink into something exceptional. The beans were roasted over a fire, finely ground, and then slowly cooked with water on the ashes of a charcoal fire. Due to this revolutionary brewing method that produced such aromatic flavor, the empire’s version began to spread, achieving an almost cult-like fervor for the drink.
The position of kahvecibaşı or chief coffee master was even included in the list of official court ministers.
The Chief Coffee Master’s role was to brew the Sultan’s and his patrons’ coffee. As this function required the kahvecibaşı to be in the presence of the Sultan while he was conducting official business, he was chosen for his loyalty, and discretion. Ottoman Historical archives reveal quite a few Chief Coffee Masters rising through the ranks to become the Sultan’s Grand Viziers.
Coffee rapidly became an essential element of the palace’s social scene, with coffee drinking becoming a sophisticated obsession, spreading first to the wealthy, then gradually reaching the homes of the public. The citizens of Istanbul were soon hooked on the enticing drink that packed a powerful punch. Green coffee beans were procured, and then fire roasted at home, using pans. The beans were then ground in mortars, and brewed in coffeepots called cezve, which are still used on a daily basis, in homes all over Turkey.
Most of the general public became familiarized with coffee through the establishment of coffee houses. The first coffee house, named Kiva Han opened in the district of Tahtakale with others closely following suit all over the city.
Coffee culture soon became an integral part of the Istanbul social experience, with people visiting coffee houses throughout the day to read books and philosophical texts, play chess and backgammon and discuss poetry and literature.