One Sip of This Turkish Coffee Will Make You Forget About Flat Whites

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One Sip of This Turkish Coffee Will Make You Forget About Flat Whites

London coffee producer Iley Özerlat is here to champion traditional Turkish coffee—a slow-brewed blend made with finely ground beans in a copper pot. “We have flat whites and espressos, but Turkish has been overlooked until now,” she says.

A decade ago, most of us got our caffeine fix via cups of Maxwell House instant and "posh coffee" equated to acrid Americanos made with stale beans in clunky espresso machines.

Then came the Australians and New Zealanders with their "third wave" coffees—carefully brewed, single estate blends served with fancy Chemex coffeemakers and geeky filters. Sales of the freeze-dried instant stuff have been in decline ever since.

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Iley Özerlat wonders whether a "fourth wave" of coffee is imminent.

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Coffee producer Iley Özerlat at Oklava, a Turkish restaurant in East London. All photos by the author.

The London-based coffee seller is championing one of the most ancient coffees in the world: Turkish. Özerlat, her family's coffee business, sells finely blended Arabica coffee beans direct from their roastery in Nicosia.

READ MORE: This London Chef Is Taking Turkish Food Beyond the Kebab Shop

The unique beans are already being brewed in the traditional Turkish way at many of the capital's Middle Eastern restaurants, including The Barbary, The Palomar, and Oklava, which is where I meet Özerlat to find out more about the art of Turkish coffee.

"We have flat whites and espressos, but Turkish has been overlooked until now," she says, before plucking a small, narrow copper pot from her bag.

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Cezve, a copper pot used for making Turkish coffee.

"This is a cezve," Özerlat continues. "If you were making a decent Turkish at home, you'd want a small, narrow vessel like this as it aids the texture."

I'm impressed by this piece of kit but Özerlat tells me that in Turkey and Cyprus, everyone has their own coffee-brewing equipment and some even give DIY roasting a go.

"Even today, some of our local Cypriot customers order beans green and roast them at home," she says.

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Özerlat spoons the finely ground Arabica beans into the cezve.

The brew we're about to have is particularly special, not only because it's the first time someone has shown me how to make (and drink) Turkish coffee, but because we're using a 100-year-old-recipe from Özerlat's great-grandfather. She tells me she grew up drinking coffee brewed on the mangal.

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"It's good because it's slow cooking," she explains. "One cup takes ten minutes, the coffee has time to release aromas."

I watch as Özerlat measures the water—exactly 70 milliliters to 7 grams of coffee. With a PhD in microbiology, she is extremely precise.

But it's not all science for Özerlat. Turkish coffee is her passion and she is quick to tell me that it arrived in London long before the Italian espresso.

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Pouring in the water, exactly 70 milliliters to 7 grams of coffee.

"In London, the first coffee was Turkish, it was in the 1650s behind St Michael's Church at a kiosk," she says. "Lloyd's of London and Britain's Stock Exchange were coffee houses. People would have their coffee and talk, then start trading."

Back to the present day and there is silence as Özerlat carefully heaps the Özerlat Heritage blend coffee from its packet. She then adds water.

"The lighter the roast, the longer it should take," Özerlat explains. "It's vital you use cold water with a medium roast. If it's hot, it cooks too quickly.

READ MORE: This Turkish Chef Uses a Hairdryer to Supercharge His Grill

In front of us on the marble table, she lights a gas stove that looks a little like a Bunsen burner. The cezve is placed over the flame but there is no stirring—only watching.

"There must be no boiling," Özerlat warns.

After a few minutes, foam starts to rise at the edges of the pot. Özerlat stares at it intensely and pours half the liquid into the cup. She then places it back on the heat and lets the foam rise again.

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"The foam and texture is important, you want it luxurious and velvety."

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The coffee is served.

Turkish coffee is slow coffee and there is no filter process. It's also a lot hotter than Antipodean varieties.

"It's drunk at about 93 degrees Celsius, which is why it's drunk slowly," says Özerlat, carefully pouring the second half of the coffee into my cup. "You must watch the foam rise again, lift the pot away from the heat, and pour it, making sure the foam rises to the top of the cup."

We sit down again, the ceremony is over. I take my first sip.

The coffee is topped with a silky soft crema. It's seductive with dark chocolate notes, but also surprisingly light. I may have stuffed myself with Oklava's Cypriot pastirma sausages and roasted cauliflower only moments before, but the cup slips down easily. All that's left is a layer of sediment.

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"The foam and texture is important, you want it luxurious and velvety."

"That's a final lesson," says Özerlat. "You need to stop half way down, before the sediment. Although some people do like it between their teeth as the coffee grains are very finely textured compared to other coffee styles."

She needn't have worried, I'm already thinking about washing away the grains with a second cup.