Turkish Sand Coffee at Kahve Cafe

If Ethiopia is the cradle of coffee, the Ottoman Empire, at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe in modern-day Turkey, gave birth to the roasted and brewed coffee along with the original coffee houses. Elif Ekin, the owner of Kahve Cafe, a Turkish-style coffee shop in downtown Salt Lake City, explains “In Ethiopia, monks created an infusion where they soaked the coffee berries in water for 24 to 48 hours and would drink that. I always joke that the monks discovered coffee, but the Ottomans experimented with roasting and grinding the coffee because 24 to 48 hours is way too long to wait for a cup of coffee.” Coffee houses in Constantinople became vibrant community gathering places to discuss art, politics and philosophy. Ideas spread. As did coffee.

Ekin is an amateur coffee historian and will walk you through the entire journey of coffee from the spice routes to Turkey, and from there through Vienna to the rest of Europe—with a stop in Rome to get papal approval—and then over to New Amsterdam (now New York) and into cultivation in Brazil as the demand soared in the new world. But the real story is how her charming shop in an old Victorian mansion near downtown Salt Lake City came to be. Kahve means coffee in Turkish, and Kahve Cafe was a dream for Ekin for years.

From a family Tradition to a cafe in a Victorian house

Born in Turkey, Ekin has fond memories of her father roasting and grinding his own coffee, “We moved to the east coast when I was about two or three. And I remember my dad roasting coffee beans in a big cast iron skillet on the stovetop,” she says. “He had a huge coffee grinder. It’s almost the size of a baseball bat. And he would roast and grind coffee. I grew up with that every day.”

As an adult herself, Ekin would have friends over for Turkish coffee and baklava, and people would stay for hours. She loves gathering community and decided to translate that feeling of a cozy afternoon gathering at home into a cafe.

The space is filled with artwork from Ekin’s collection, antique rugs, oversized cushions and lots of cozy nooks. You’ll find guests sitting cross-legged on the floor sipping coffee, students studying at old desks and plenty of tarot card decks and coffee table books to go around.

And, of course, the scent of coffee permeates. “I want you to feel like you’re going to your quirky aunt’s house,” she says. “The one who’s traveled all over the world and has all of these eclectic treasures everywhere.”

Kahve Cafe
Kahve Cafe is a cute and cozy space to share a cuppa with your friends. Photo by Adam Finkle

Coffee you can sink your teeth into

Turkish coffee is made in a small copper pot, open at the top, with a long handle. The pot is sizedbased on the exact amount of coffee for the number of serving. A serving of Turkish coffee is small but mighty, with powder-fine grounds that are heated in a pot until they foam into a beautiful crema. The coffee is served with the grounds still in the cup for a particularly high-octane brew.

Instead of making her coffee stovetop, Ekin imported special Turkish sand coffee makers to make the coffee in the most traditional way. “The sand machine is replicating cooking the coffee in hot coals or, in this case, hot sand, you’re actually creating a richer cup of Turkish coffee,” she says. “You’re cooking it from all sides. A richness developed when you can control the heat and move it around os that it gradually lifts and rises to create a foam on top.” That foam, or crema, add a creaminess. In contrast, Ekin describes the taste of an overboiled cup of Turkish coffee as “thin.” “On the stovetop, you are only heating the coffee from the bottom, and don’t get the full force of flavor as a result. You don’t have that real depth of flavor you get from gradually moving it around the sand to allow it to cook itself and gently lift.”

Slow down and sip

Stand and watch while your coffee is swirling in the sand, and talk to the barista (sand-ista?). If you want sugar aks for it in advance. You can’t sweeten Turkish coffee once it comes off the heat. The cardamom sugar is particularly lovely and adds a little spicy nip to the sweetness. At the end of your CPU, Ekin may even take a moment to read your fortune in the coffee grounds.

This is not a fast, in-and-out coffee shop. You won’t find milk to go with your coffee, but you will find plenty of Turkish-style and non-traditional baklava and savory pastries. “When people would ask me if I was going to pen a cafe, I would always respond and say, if I open a cafe, it needs to be in a home,” Ekin says. “Because Turkish hospitality begins in the home and people need to feel at home and welcome.” Mission accomplished. You will cozy up and feel welcomed here.

In Turkish tradition, you’re not allowed to read your own coffee cup. Get a friends to act as your personal mystic. Photo by Adam Finkle

Reading Turkish Coffee Grounds

Since the coffee grounds stay in the cup, there is a tradition of reading Turkish coffee grounds much like tea leaves.

  1. When you finish your coffee down to the dregs, you place your saucer tight against the top of your cup and then flip i tupside down towards your heart and then let it settle. The leftover grinds drip down the sides as it cools, creating images and shapes with different meanings.
  2. You’re not allowed to read your own coffee cup. Get a friends to act as your personal mystic.
  3. The friend (new or old) will hold the cup by the handle, and looking inside the cup, shapes the left to represent the past, and the right of the handle is the future. Straight ahead in the middle is the present. Look for shapes, patters, and feelings. It’s almost like looking for meaning in the clouds. Interpret freely.

Interested in learning more about global coffee traditions? Check out Lydia’s coverage of Ethiopian and Cuban coffee you can find right here in the Beehive State.

Lydia Martinez
Lydia Martinezhttp://www.saltlakemgazine.com
Lydia Martinez is a freelance food, travel, and culture writer. She has written for Salt Lake Magazine, Suitcase Foodist, and Utah Stories. She is a reluctantly stationary nomad who mostly travels to eat great food. She is a sucker for anything made with lots of butter and has been known to stay in bed until someone brings her coffee. Do you have food news? Send tips to lydia@saltlakemagazine.com

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