By Özgün Sarisoy
Do you know the words for “breakfast” and “brown” in Turkish?(1) The Turkish language has many words related to coffee in its vocabulary. Turkish culture has deep roots in coffee, with traditional ballad songs, as well as different brewing and serving rituals for this beloved beverage. Turkey’s coffee culture is one of the oldest, but today it is one of the top tea drinking countries in the world. Turks shifted their focus from their old friend after the first tea trees were planted, more or less a hundred years ago.
Turkish coffee culture has more than 500 years of history, which brings about two different challenges to specialty roasters. First, the flavor of Turkish coffee has a strong hold on more conservative palates. It’s easier to get blood out of stone than to tell a conservative coffee drinker that coffee is a fruit and that there are fruity tones in specialty coffee, which is different than traditional Turkish coffee. Second, it seems Turkey is a crowded country, but the coffee market is much smaller than might be expected; most Turkish people prefer tea to coffee. Annual coffee consumption is 0.4 kg per person in Turkey, while it’s 5.5 kg in Greece, our neighboring country, and 6.4 kg in Germany.(2)
We have many challenges as specialty roasters, such as access to specialty coffee, strict customs regulations, high taxes, and an immature market. We are utilizing the same sources for green coffee as European roasters, because we still don’t have enough capacity to source directly from origin and we don’t have a local specialty importer—yet. Turkey has signed several customs regulations with EU, but green coffee is still an exception. We pay high taxes, even though Turkey is not a green coffee producer—approximately 13% custom tax and 8% VAT. A €10/kg of green coffee from EU turns into €15/kg when arrives at our roastery, after you add in all the expenses. Turkish labor is cheaper than EU, but we are struggling with one of the most expensive rental markets in the world—Istanbul.
For me, specialty coffee has no rules. It is a revolution of taste that breaks all taboos one by one. I think the national community is getting more visible at this point because we are meeting, talking, and sharing personal experience face-to-face. We are watching the Scandinavian coffee scene with admiration, and would love to create a national one closer to that. At the moment, our national SCA chapter has annual meetings and we organize national championships, despite having limited participation. Approximately eight to ten baristas participated in last year’s barista championship in Turkey. These are baby steps for our national community, and hopefully we are getting much more inclusive in terms of participation of local coffee professionals.
On the other hand, having an old coffee culture brings an old coffee house tradition, which is an advantage. The first coffee house in Istanbul was opened during 1550s. People still love to spend hours at coffee shops, drinking non-alcoholic beverages and chatting.
Specialty coffee is still so new in Turkey, which is also an advantage for our company because there are still so few specialty roasters in the country. It seems that it’s fairly difficult to find the right roaster as a consumer because there are many micro-roasteries, using commodity coffee and presenting their craft as specialty.
We have a relatively small specialty scene at the moment in Turkey—with very few specialty roasters and an undeveloped market. Turkish people still need time to evolve their traditional coffee palates to this revolutionary new taste.
Özgün Sarisoy is the head roaster for Kronotrop, a specialty coffee roaster in Turkey.
(1) Breakfast, “Kahvaltı,” means a meal before coffee; Brown, “Kahverengi,” means coffee color.
(2) Coffee consumption, World Resources Institute, viewed 8th February, 2011, <http://www.wri.org>