Istanbul was introduced to coffee in 16. century during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent by Özdemir Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of Yemen, who had grown to love the drink while stationed in that country.
Coffee soon became a vital part of palace cuisine and was very popular in court. The position of Chief Coffee Maker (kahvecibaşı) was added to the roster of court functionaries. The Chief Coffee Maker’s duty was to brew the Sultan’s or his patron’s coffee, and was chosen for his loyalty and ability to keep secrets. The annals of Ottoman History record a number of Chief Coffee Makers who rose through the ranks to become Grand Viziers to the Sultan.
Coffee soon spread from the palace to grand mansions, and from grand mansions to the homes of the public. The people of Istanbul quickly became enamoured with the beverage. Green coffee beans were purchased and then roasted at home on pans. The beans were then ground in mortars and brewed in coffeepots known as ”cezve”.
Coffee’s renown soon spread beyond the palace, grand mansions and homes.
Istanbul’s first coffeehouses opened in the district of Taht-ul-kale in 1554. ”Taht-ul Kale” means ”inside the castle”, and is known today as Tahtakale. Many coffee vendors set up shop on Tahtakale’s Tahmis Sokak, which means ”Roasted and Ground Coffee Street”. Coffee and coffeehouse culture spread rapidly and soon became an integral part of Istanbul social culture. Initially frequented by the city’s literati, coffeehouses soon became popular with the general public as well. Soon, there were 55 coffeehouses in Istanbul, most of which overlooked stunning views of the city. People came here throughout the day to read books, play chess and backgammon and discuss poetry and literature. Performances of traditional Turkish theatrical arts such as Shadow Puppetry (Karagöz) and Classical Turkish Drama (ortaoyunu) were first held at these coffeehouses.
Istanbul’s passion for coffee has remained unchanged over the centuries. At the end of the 18th century, the Italian writer Edmondo de Amicis wrote: ”There are coffeehouses at the summits of the Galata and Beyazıt Towers, there are coffee vendors on the ferries, in the cemeteries, in government offices and Turkish baths – even in the markets. No matter where you are in Istanbul, all you have to do is yell ’Coffee Maker’ with nary a glance in any direction, and within three minutes you will be clutching a steaming cup of coffee.”