Coffee in Istanbul
My experience of coffee in Istanbul down the years has been a very mixed bag.
The famous traditional Turkish coffee is an extraordinary concoction with an inch of coffee grains at the bottom of each cup which you inevitably end up swallowing the first time you try it.
Aside from that, which is served both in cafes, restaurants and at home, I’ve mainly drunk pretty average restaurant espresso which is much the same as nae-fucks-given restaurant coffee in the UK.
On this trip, I hunted out a few speciality places to see where they were on what we might call the Third Wave curve, if we were being wanky.
First stop was Coffee Gutta in Taksim at the heart of Istanbul’s city centre. Just around the corner from the Galata Tower, it was interesting to see a place here putting an emphasis on quality rather than tourist dollar.
They had just about every coffee preparation method you could imagine available with a full brewbar, cold brew, and Turkish coffee as well as espresso-based drinks. They also had a range of their own roasted beans to suit this spectrum of styles.
The espresso I had was pretty good but not quite as good as I’d expected given the array of coffee paraphernalia dotted about the place. It felt like they needed a little tweaking both on their roasting and preparation as the shot lacked clarity and brightness. Still, it was good to see such a strong commitment to good coffee principles at the heart of tourist Istanbul.
I had the opportunity for a few coffee stops in Yenikoy, which is a lovely little suburb on the Bosphorus, near to where I was staying.
Firstly I popped into Nanny’s, a stylish little cafe. Their espresso was the best I had in my short survey on Yenikoy. They’re described as a roastery so presumably roasting their own beans, but my lack of Turkish meant I couldn’t get a real sense of things. But the bottom line was that the coffee was impressively good.
I then popped along to Sedona Concept, a bike shop cafe. I was hopeful of a similar experience to what I’d had at Mester Bike + Coffee Project in Budapest. It wasn’t quite to that standard but again they were roasting their own and served me a pretty decent espresso.
The cafe is one of those wondrous places with pavement tables and chairs allowing for people watching. The excellent Django Reinhardt soundtrack made things super-chilled and deeply pleasurable. It was a little chunk of Sunday lunchtime bliss.
I had a final stop at Cafe Society for a quick takeout.
They offered a range of different single origin coffees across the broadest range of styles. Again it felt like they needed a little sharpening of preparation to showoff the good quality beans to best advantage, but it was good to see this approach.
I had time for a stop at the Istinye Kahvecisi. This is a cafe in Istinye Park’s large mall complex so didn’t on the face of it seem like a promising prospect for coffee innovation. However, it’s roasting its own beans for use in Turkish coffee, including a range of spice infused varieties. My eye was caught by the cardamom variety so I ordered that.
The intensity of the perfumed cardamom worked really well to balance the aggressive bitterness of the coffee. To say it was balanced would be an overstatement, but its titanic battle of flavours was rather more pleasant than much of the Turkish coffee I’ve drunk in the past.
And there was even time for a quick farewell shot at the airport as I made my way to the gate at a place called Kronotrop. Their main shop and roastery is in Taksim and was fairly nearby when we stopped at Coffee Gutta.
It was a shame we didn’t head there as the shot I was served in this outpost branch was the coffee highlight of my time in the city. It was intensely jammy with joyfully fruit-forward notes. It was top-class stuff.
So overall, Istanbul looks to have a promising scene for coffee roasted in the Third Wave style to add to its more traditional, abrasively harsh coffee roots. As with Berlin, I barely scraped the surface of their options but saw enough commitment to small-batch roasting and a range of preparation methods to indicate a burgeoning quality coffee scene. Give the places I’ve mentioned a look when you’re next in this fabulous city.