Drawn together: the cezve

Categories: Behind the stalls

Graham Teale of The Turkish Deli talks to Ed Smith about one of the tools of his trade

Graham Teale, The Turkish Deli

My wife Cimen is Turkish. Her family are established olive growers in northern Turkey, on the sea of Marmara, which connects the Black and Aegean seas. Their groves are beautiful—full of walnut, apricot and mulberry trees, as well as olives. One summer we were sitting there, shortly before harvest, eating mulberries we’d just picked, and we joked that maybe we could start importing and selling the olives in England. And then we did.

We specialise in those olives, which are known as Gemlik olives, after the name of the area. They are brined and dried in various different styles, though all are rich in flavour. We also sell handmade Turkish delights, also produced by the family in Turkey, and make our own meze and baklava. As well as all that we offer Turkish coffee, using beans that we roast and grind on site daily.

Turkish coffee is very different to western-style coffee and is as much about the method and habit of making it, and the convivial experience of drinking the coffee with others, as the drink itself. In fact, the methodology is so specific it has UNESCO protection.

Brewed over fire
Each coffee is brewed in a pot called a cezve, which is typically made from copper or brass. They are flat-bottomed, taper in the middle then open up again towards the top, and have a long handle as originally they would have been used over an open fire. Nowadays the heat source is more likely to be a gas or electric hob, and in fact the cezve we use are aluminium with their own electric base, but the shape and style of the pot remains the same.

The first step is to grind the coffee beans. Turkish coffee traditionally uses beans from Ethiopia and Yemen, which were part of the Ottoman Empire. I buy green Ethiopian beans (because of the war in Yemen we can’t import from there) and have a small hot air roaster in the shop, which can roast up to a kilogram at a time. We probably roast between two and six kilos a day.

We have a special grinder to turn those beans into fine grinds—nearly like flour—which requires special plates and constant cleaning and calibration. To give you an idea, for a western espresso baristas grind to 300 microns; for Turkish coffee, we need it to be 100 microns.

Illustration of Turkish coffee making utensils

One continuous pour
For each measure of coffee, we add a specific measure of cold water—for 100g water, it’s eight grams of coffee. We then add sugar and sometimes a flavouring, according to custom and the customer’s taste, and then place it over a heat to warm slowly. There’s an initial stir to help blend the coffee, then the cezve is left for a bit before being stirred once more.

You’re looking to achieve a crema on the coffee, and to remove it from the heat just before it comes to the boil. This will take about two and a half to three minutes, when it will have heated to somewhere between 89 and 92 degrees celsius. We can tell this by looking to see the first little bubbles begin to rise through the crema. At this point, we take the cezve off the heat, give it a swirl, then decant the coffee into a cup in one continuous pour.

Because ultimately the coffee is unfiltered, the customer has to wait for another two or three minutes for the coffee grinds to settle and sink to the bottom. Then they can enjoy the drink while chatting, with a piece of Turkish delight or baklava on the side—it should be a sociable experience. There is one final part of the process, which is to turn the coffee over so that the grains and your fortune can be read. I’m not sure how many of our customers at Borough Market do that bit, though!

Cardamom, nutmeg, liquorice
The taste it strong. It’s not bitter. It’s clean. If made properly, it shouldn’t be sludgy. My particular coffee beans have a slight nutty, cherry taste in the background. We can also add flavours, which is typical in the Arab world. In Turkey the coffee might be flavoured with something called mastic, a plant resin which adds a pine-like note. Elsewhere, people add cardamom, nutmeg, liquorice and so on. We offer those too. But the method is always the same.

I could well be the only English person making Turkish coffee, but I try to keep it as close to traditional method as possible. If you used the same beans through a filter, it wouldn’t be the same as making a coffee using a cezve. Some things just don’t taste right if the processes are cut short. Besides, one of the joys of Turkish coffee is the method. It’s a habit. It’s also about sitting down, companionship, friendship and socialising, and is far removed from the Italian style of knocking back an espresso.