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What’s the Difference Between Turkish and Greek Coffee?

Written by Phil

A coffee enthusiast and traveler, Phil primarily spends his days thinking and writing about coffee. He also writes for HittingEject.com where he explores ideas of culture, psychology, and travel, and occasionally dabbles in horror.

The other day, I found myself getting into a debate with a friend about whether we were drinking Greek or Turkish coffee. The silky beverage in front of me had always been called Greek coffee whenever I’d had it, yet my friend had taken me to a Turkish cafe and insisted that was the real name. What’s the deal? Is there any real difference between Greek and Turkish coffee?

There doesn’t seem to be much difference between the two drinks. Greek coffee uses lighter roasts; Turkish uses darker. Some areas add flavors and sugar. But, it did originate in Turkey.

If you’re new to this beverage and want to know how to make it, you can see what I wrote about it in this post (it’s #4), or you can read on.

What is it?

Whatever you call the drink, common features seem to be:

  • Very fine coffee powder
  • A small, often copper, boiling vessel (often called a cezve [chez-vey])
  • Adding sugar and coffee powder to the water before boiling
  • Bringing to a boil on medium heat then immediately removing from the element or flame (roughly 7-10min)
  • Coffee powder still being present in the drink itself
  • Often a ceramic cup similar to an espresso cup with a bulging bottom to allow for the powder to settle

The result is a smooth, flavorful cup that is usually enjoyed in cafes, slowly sipped with friends. 

Basically, it’s treated like an espresso in Europe.

The Disagreement

The beverage originated in the Ottoman Empire, whose official religion was Islam. Coffee, at the time, was considered a drug, making it forbidden. Due to its popularity, however, the sultan decided to legalize it. Some drugs just can’t be kept illegal, it seems.

However, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the beverage had spread to several regions that are now modern-day countries.

Each country has its own version, sometimes adding different things to it, but its preparation seems to largely be the same.

The main reason they have different names seems to be similar to the reason America temporarily renamed “french fries” to “freedom fries”. It had been known as Turkish coffee for the longest time until 1974 when a nationalistic furor was aroused in Greece, and thus it became “Greek coffee”. In Cyprus, it became Cypriot coffee.

Yup, that’s basically it.

In North America, it can be found with various names, coming from various regions, such as Bosnian Coffee (Bosnia and Herzegovina), and Armenian Coffee/Soorj (Armenia), among others.

The Differences

The main difference between the varieties of coffee seems to be dependent on who is making it, but the most common changes seem to be:

  • Added spices or flavors
    • Cardamom: a seedpod from the ginger family
    • Ambergris: sperm whale digestive material often used in perfume
    • Salep: A starchy tuber that is often used in desserts from the Levant
    • Mastic: a resin from the mastic tree (aka Arabic gum (not gum Arabic)). It starts a little bitter, but after some processing, it can taste like pine and cedar.
  • The roast
    • Greek: lighter roasts
    • Turkish: darker roast

Fun Facts

  • Turkish coffee, much like tea leaves, are used for fortune-telling
  • Before a wedding in Turkey, it’s a tradition for the groom’s family to be served Turkish coffee by the bride in her home. A test is to give the groom coffee with salt instead of sugar to judge his character. If he takes it graciously and doesn’t complain, he is considered good-tempered and patient. Some regions of the country consider this a sign of the bride’s hesitation or disinterest in the marriage.
  • Despite the official line in Greece calling the coffee “Greek coffee”, it’s still commonly referred to as “Turkish coffee” in the country.
  • “Turkish Coffee” was recognized by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage” for Turkey. I guess that settles the argument.

TL;DR

It seems Turkish/Greek coffee originated in the Ottoman Empire and should probably be called Turkish coffee, generally. Even the Greeks still seem to commonly call it Turkish coffee. That being said, there is still some national pride and minor differences based on regions that make people call it by their own nationality. 

As well, it appears that Turkey is held responsible for various international problems causing ill will toward the nation and prompting others to change the name for symbolic reasons.

Bottom line: it’s all basically the same drink with minor regional differences.

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