Among the many things the Ottomans brought to Hungary during their 150-year reign, coffee was perhaps the most influential from a cultural standpoint. Their kahve became the Austro-Hungarian monarchy’s kávé, though it was originally referred to as “fekete leves” (black soup) in Hungary. The first coffeeshops in Europe opened in the 17th century, following a trend that began in Istanbul almost one hundred years prior. Some coffee houses around Istanbul still aim to bring back a nostalgia for those medieval cafes. They recreate a time when coffee was coffee, not a breakfast, nor a beverage.
One of these is Kahveci Ethem Tezçakar, tucked away on “Rug Street” in the Grand Bazaar. Bekir Tezçakar’s family has been perking up bazaar vendors for four generations now. His coffee, tea and baklava is delivered on beautiful hanging trays made of brass to the furthest corners of the massive market. They follow tradition, making coffee in a copper cezve pot and dosing foam as the coffee brews. They use a bean by Nuri Toplar, which has been around since the 1890’s and roast on wood without gas or electricity.
When I ask him if I can take photos he nods enthusiastically and waves me closer to the beautiful copper machines, showing me the compartments for finely ground beans and sugar. He does some slight of hand with coffee, water and foam. Things are poured from a height, then lowered. Sugar is stirred in before the coffee is heated. The sugar dissolves while the ground beans sink. The pot is heated to a boil and then removed from the heat for a short time until it is brought to boil a second and third time. The finished coffee is poured into demitasse cups with foam layered over the top.
They make sure to know your sugar preference and the choice is between four degrees of sweetness: sade is without sugar; az şekerli with half a teaspoon, orta şekerli with one teaspoon and çok şekerli with one and a half or two teaspoons. I gestured medium, which the guy took to mean one teaspoon. I usually don’t even take sugar in my coffee but anything less than orta would have been painful with this particularly brew. The sugar is cooked in, not merely stirred, so it gets perfectly integrated into the otherwise dark black soup of caffeine.
And yeah, it’s nice, though I’m not a coffee connoisseur. It’s nutty and rich, thick in taste and texture. There’s a dense pool of sludge on the bottom of the cup that results from excess beans trickling down and settling there. This, of course, is not to be touched. Extra cubes of sugar are served in a brass dish on the side, but an even better sweetener is the chewy baklava that comes highly recommended. Not too different than any other baklava I’ve tried, it’s stiff with sticky honey, a ridiculously dense book of phyllo and chopped nuts. Water is also a necessary part of the experience and you can’t get away without downing a whole bottle full.
When it came to Kahveci Ethem Tezçakar, the atmosphere really made the experience. After hours of bartering for funky Turkish slippers, mother-of-pearl chess sets and hand-painted marble boxes it felt nice to sit and watch fellow tourists being separated from their cash. Round brass tables lie close to the ground and seats are felt blocks lower down, still. To the right of the kahveci is a rug shop and the owner stands outside chain-smoking next to his delicate, fibrous merchandise. On the other side is an alley with brightly lit hills of Turkish delights available in a myriad of colors and flavors. It’s a comfy, friendly place to sit, chill and discuss barter strategy or to plan your path through the some 4,000 shops that make up the boisterous bazaar.