Medieval Istanbul Didn’t Just Have Cafés, But Also Chief Coffee Officers
- Sushmita Sengupta
Updated : June 04, 2022 07:06 IST
The Ottoman coffee houses opened up new avenues of socialising, it also allowed men of many different vocations and class to mingle together.
Remember how sneaking out of house for hanging out with friends at a local café seemed so cool to us 10 years back? It might interest you to know, that this ‘cool’ concept of cafes, and the idea unwinding at coffee shop is not modern at all. The Ottoman empire, had the Ottoman coffeehouses way back in the sixteenth century. These cafes served as a meeting point for many intellectuals, culture enthusiasts and friends, who spoke for hours with a copious number of coffee refills. Sounds intriguing right? Wait till you hear about the ‘Chief Coffee Officers’ of Medieval Istanbul who were appointed to ensure the quality of coffee that was being served to the public.
As per legends, the Arabs were obsessed with coffee, in fact, one of the major species of coffee that was known at the time was ‘arabica’. Throughout the Muslim world, and beyond, the coffee plantations had begun in full force. In the book, ‘The Story Of Food: An Illustrated History Of Everything We Eat’ by DK Publishing House, it was somewhere around 1555, that Turkey was introduced to coffee by Ozdemir Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of Yemen, who happened to bring sack full of beans with him to Istanbul on his way back. The Turks are also credited for inventing a new way of brewing coffee, where the beans were roasted before being ground in the powder, post which they slowly brewed in hot water. This gave their coffee an inimitable smoky, strong flavour.
Further in the book, it is also mentioned, that after the introduction of coffee in the Ottoman empire in the sixteenth century, it rapidly emerged as a piece de resistance at the court of Suleiman the Magnificent. Here the “post of Chief Coffee Officer was established as a sign of the drink’s importance”, the book noted
The Ottoman Coffee House| What Were The Rules
The earliest variant of coffee houses is said to have originated in Arabia, from where it travelled to Egypt, then to Persia and finally the Ottoman empire during the 16th century. The first coffee house of the empire was set up in the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent in Tahtakale, Istanbul by two merchants from Damascus. Over the years, with coffee, these coffee houses also started serving some sweet beverages, candies and desserts. It took very little time for the idea of coffeehouses to boom. In no time, Istanbul was filled with coffeehouses, which became sites for personal interactions and cultural exchanges. It was a unique type of community hub, something that didn’t exist in Istanbul before. Prior to these coffeehouses, men would gather in mosques, or shops and or in houses for their ‘catch-up’ sessions.
These coffee shops were also revolutionary in a way, as men from all rungs of the society were welcome here. Women and children were barred from entering. They were principally Muslim gathering spots, but men of different religions would also come by occasionally, and much frequently later down the years. These coffeehouses opened up new avenues of socialising. Everything from politics to trade was discussed here. It even helped democratise education in a certain way, since all men could come in these coffee houses, they could attend a talk or sit next to any scholar or academician for a riveting chat about philosophy, religion, politics and science.
It is also said that these coffeehouses were of much importance to local governments, who would often plat spies in these coffee houses to retrieve information on malefactors. More often than not, the coffeehouse owners would only be supplying information to government on 'suspicious' activities.
Fascinated much? Have you ever tried Turkish coffee? Do let us know.