“Anyone for a hot cup of coffee? ” is one of the most frequent questions you hear when visiting a friend or a relative anywhere on the Balkans. The right answer to this offer is “yes,” since the preparing, serving and drinking of coffee in this part of Europe, alone or in a company, means to indulge your senses in a zesty, relaxing ritual that would surely liven up your day. However, any Balkan visitor would notice that, in this case, espresso, latte or decaf come secondary while the real coffee enjoyment implies to a small cup of velvety, darkest black coffee crowned with a thick brown foam and a smell to die for. (tea fans, it’s ok if you can’t relate to this.) Although this beverage is mostly referred to as “Turkish” coffee, people living in different parts of the Balkan would reject this claim and call it “Serbian,” “Greek,” “Bosnian,” “Macedonian,” “Slovenian” etc. One may wonder what could be so controversial about such an ordinary thing as a coffee so let’s find out!
Firstly, the preparation of this coffee is almost the same everywhere: the coffee beans are finely ground and a special pot called “dzezve” (Turkish for “pot”) is filled with water and then placed on а heated hotplate. After the water boils, 1-2 teaspoons of sugar is added and then the ground coffee. Next, the coffee is returned on the hotplate and after a few minutes it’s done. However, different regions in the Balkans have their own specific ways of preparation and thus, some put the sugar and the coffee before the water boils while others prepare it without sugar and serve it with sugar cubes on side. Nevertheless, it’s easy and simple!
But if one askas the name of this coffee, well, then things mught get a little complicated. For example, if you’re out for a coffee in Turkey and you’d order a “Turkish” coffee, the Turkish waiters will tell you that you have ordered a traditional coffee that is drunk in their country for centuries, served with a Turkish delight. If you hit the road to the north, however, and want to have this coffee, than it is reccommendable to order it as a “Greek” coffee. Try to order a “Turkish” coffee and you’d get that akward look from the waiter as if they don’t understand what you’d said. You would likely face with the same situation in Serbia and Macedonia where the waiters would proudly tell you that you’d be served with a cup of the best traditional “Serbian” or “Macedonian”coffee.
According to some historical records, this type of coffee, also known as Arabic, first came from Yemen to Turkey in the 16th century when an Ottoman governor introduced it to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. This story is followed by the coffee-ban of Sultan Murad IV in the 17th century who proclaimed the beverage as a“blasphemy” but at the end, the lust for coffee overthrew his orders. As the Ottoman Empire spread over the Balkan and in the eastern Mediterranean countries the drinking of coffee became an important cultural practice. Until the 1970s all of these countries called the coffee “Turkish,” however, under the influence of nationalism and attempts to erase the Turkish remains from the past, many people re-baptized the coffee, trying to adapt it to their own national identity. The Greeks even tried to call it a Byzantine coffee although it was introduced around the 16th century and didn’t relate to the rule of the Byzantine Empire.
Despite the various names given to the gift by Suleiman the Magnificent, when it comes to coffee, there is one thing that all the Balkan countries have in common- the panache. This coffee must be drunk at a slow pace with a special elan, often with a cigarette and a jolly chit-chat. Finally, when the cup is empty, another ritual begins. Certanly, those who know this cofee would guess that we’re talking about coffee fortune telling.
This type of coffee leaves a muddy sediment at the bottom of the cup. If you swirl it and then turn it upside-down, and place it on a saucer the grounds will leave some patterns on the surface of the cup. Then, the experienced fortune teller would interpret your future and destiny through the reading of the patterns which have specific symbolic meanings. At last, the drinker of the coffee makes a wish and presses with their finger in the sediment and the coffee fortune teller would tell them when, how and whether their wish would come true.