The Coffee Houses and Cafés of North Cyprus
INDULGING IN a cup of traditional Turkish coffee is something every visitor should experience, as it is as rich in tradition as it is in flavour. From the days of the Ottoman empire the simple cup of coffee has played a significant role in Turkish-Cypriot culture. Brought to Istanbul in 1555 by two Syrian traders, coffee was regarded by the Turks as the “milk of chess players and thinkers”.
Under Ottoman-Turk rule the Cypriot men would meet up in coffee houses to discuss politics and play backgammon. The coffee houses were also used to host shadow puppetry theatre where social and political comment was conveyed through satirical comedy. On such occasions women and children would be welcome although ordinarily the coffee houses were the domain of the menfolk.
Since their introduction Turkish-Cypriot coffee houses have been used for all sorts of socio-political interaction including financial dealings, meetings, auctions, all manner of community issues and even matchmaking. During the second world war the coffee houses often had a radio and therefore became the only reliable source of information for entire villages.
Needless to say the coffee house has become a well-established social institution over hundreds of years and remains an integral part of everyday life in the Northern and Turkish-Cypriot side of the island. Even today you will be hard pressed to pass through a North Cypriot village without hearing the chatter and laughter of locals outside a “kahve” (short for “Kahvehane”, the Turkish name for coffee shop).
Almost every village in North Cyprus has a “kahve” in its central square or main street. Here you will still find menfolk exchanging stories, two adversaries playing backgammon and maybe elders smoking hubble-bubble pipes. Usually the village kahve is open all day long and is a gathering place for those not at work.
Whilst these traditional coffee houses remain the domain of men, the larger villages and towns have many cafe-restaurants where both men and women, friends and family can meet up to discuss topics of the day over a cup of traditional Turkish coffee, or other beverage of course. The traditional village kahve will also serve alternatives to coffee, including mint or anise tea made from herbs growing on nearby mountains.
For coffee lovers, Turkish coffee is a very fine, powder-like grind derived from the Arabica bean and is often combined with aromatic cardamom seeds. It is served frothy from a long handled pot known as a “cezve” and usually comes in four levels of sweetness, namely; “sade” without sugar, “az shekerli” mildly sweet, “orta” medium sweet and “shekerli” very sweet. In accordance with the Turkish proverb:- “coffee should be black as hell, strong as death and as sweet as love”.
For the inquisitive traveller this will undoubtedly be a “shekerli” taste of Turkish-Cypriot culture.