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29 January 2015  |  0 comment  |  Zuhal Aytolun

Is the legend back?

The day begins, a white-collar worker buys a large coffee from a coffeehouse chain and walks to his office. Some people pour it into their own thermos and drink from it all day long, as you all know. Their own choice, of course… In fact, everything is changing nowadays.

However, what we call coffee is a culture. We are all aware of this, but we cannot put it into practice in today’s conditions. In order to better understand coffee culture and its reflections, which hold an important place both in private life, and in public space, you should read Ottoman Tulips, Ottoman Coffee: Leisure and Lifestyle in the Eighteenth Century by Dana Sajdi.

Is the legend back?

The book consists of studies featuring the Ottoman-era culture, all concerning the eighteenth century. Actually, it has a wide scope, and is also a rich resource for getting acquainted with this culture. But when you focus on coffeehouses, you encounter highly interesting information.

In the section by Alan Mikhail, Mikhail writes, “I argue that Ottoman town coffeehouses were significant venues in Ottoman towns, since they emphasized the complex nature of urban venue and social gender concepts in the Ottoman world and also challenged them”. Because coffeehouses were socializing venues with many functions in the city.

Association of coffee and coffee consumption with socializing venue dates back the times coffee first entered the Muslim world. However, there is some different opinions as to the first appearance of coffee in the region. Although no one knows for certain, it’s known that coffee came to Istanbul in the mid-sixteenth century.

In fact, right after that, places of coffee consumption and rituals constructed around coffee consumption became more important the drink itself, and they became an integral part of Ottoman cities.

Mikhail also shares information from historian Cengiz Kırlı: “Kırlı alleges that one out of seven-eight businesses in Istanbul were coffeehouses in the beginning of the nineteenth century. There were 22 coffeehouses only in Beşiktaş, and 108 coffeehouses in total in neighborhoods stretching out along Bosporus.”

Nineteenth century traveler Charles White from Britain, who wrote about the same period in his works, said that Istanbul had at least two thousand and five hundred coffeehouses. 

In fact, in a period when meals were eaten at home, and people could only socialize by visiting houses of friends and relatives, the important societal change caused by spread of Ottoman city coffeehouses to everywhere was their functioning as a place for socializing outside home.

Now, as for today…

How many of us are aware of spending time at a coffeehouse or a place with the spirit of coffeehouses? Wouldn’t it be nice if the spirit of these coffeehouses, where politics and literature was discussed and chats with poems were held, was remembered and created once more?

Yes, each period creates its own circumstances, but don’t you also think that social and cultural history should be kept and preserved? And perhaps there’ll be other people who desire to invigorate this authentic experience and enjoy sharing it!

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