We're getting to the bottom of the ibrik — literally!
A few years ago, I received an ibrik (also known as an cezve or a Turkish coffee pot) from my friend Pete when he returned from a trip to Turkey. Showing a distinct lack of curiosity, I put it aside next to a bunch of other brewing equipment that tends to collect if you work in specialty coffee. It didn’t touch a stove for half a decade. This January, with a little more home coffee brewing time on my hands, I noticed that ibrik sitting in a remote corner of my Brooklyn kitchen and decided to give it a shot.
Two small problems: I didn’t know the first thing about making Turkish coffee, and Turkish coffee is usually ground super-fine with a special hand grinder, which I didn't own. The first problem could be helped with the vastness of the internet; the second, well, I wasn’t sure.
Before I begin, a quick note: I’m going to be referring to this brew method as Turkish coffee throughout this article, as it’s the most popular way I’ve found to refer to it in the US. There are many ways to refer to a similar process and some locations in which, in 2019, calling it Turkish coffee might not be acceptable. But for the context of this article, it’s the simplest term to use. And because I find ibrik to be more commonly used than the specifically Turkish term “cezve”, I will be using ibrik to refer to the brewer itself, so maybe that’ll serve as a compromise as well.
I began with a recipe I found online, figuring that I would need to mess with some parameters for sure, but I’d begin by following the recipe. I ground the coffee as fine as I could (you could probably describe it as medium-fine, certainly not fine enough for espresso, never mind Turkish) and just went for it. I posted a picture of this first attempt to my Instagram story (as one does), and was pleased to get a message from one of my favorite coffee pros, Dandy Anderson from Stumptown Coffee. Dandy, as I found out, is the rare coffee pro in the US who was introduced to coffee through ibrik brewing as early as elementary school (with friends who, as Greeks, would never call this process “Turkish coffee”). They gave me some advice and, as my first attempt was quite sour and required more brew time, I went for it. (Dandy would continue throughout this process to answer my very eloquent questions such as, “Should my mouth be full of grinds?”)
I kept my ratio of 10 parts cold water to one part coffee. I combined the coffee and water, then put the ibrik on the stove and turned the heat on high. After a minute, I stirred with a teaspoon to make sure there weren’t any clumps floating on top. I thought of the ibrik as a boiling method, but using my instant read thermometer, I realized that with its shape the coffee bubbles up and rises without ever really hitting a rolling boil of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Dandy’s recipe called for letting that foam rise (which took around three minutes), taking it off the heat, and letting it fall — then repeating the whole process two more times. I poured that into my cup and, to my surprise, it was pretty good! Maybe I could have used a smidge more sweetness, and I certainly didn’t have the crema I’d heard was an important part of Turkish coffee, but all the flavors I expected came through pretty cleanly (much more so than Turkish coffee’s reputation had led me to believe). And when I thought about it, the brewing process made sense. Sure my grind was coarser than traditional, but in the end it hung around that 200 degrees Fahrenheit zone we usually brew in for a decent amount of time.
So, I had made a pretty good tasting specialty coffee in an ibrik, but when I sat down to write this post I asked myself if I had actually made Turkish coffee? I hadn't really considered the cultural context of most brew methods I’ve used prior. Specialty coffee, in fact, has always seemed to me almost exclusively about looking forward. Not once has anyone said to me to respect the traditions of pour over coffee, and while those of Italian espresso are well known to third wave coffee, our relationship to them has usually ranged from dismissive to hostile. Ibrik coffee brewing has existed for over half a century and has a cultural and ritual dimension that was completely foreign to me. I’m generally not the type of person who develops a recipe with the thought that it’s going to be "The Absolute Best Way to Brew" that particular thing, but as an American making this traditional mediterranean brew method, I was especially focused on having fun with it while not making any claims to be revolutionizing the process.
There are, I should mention, a whole bunch of people pushing specialty coffee ibrik brewing forward, highlighted by the existence of an international Cezve/Ibrik Championship. I initially used 2016 champion Konstantinos Komninakis' recipe for my trial, and this time I found that the always excellent Mill City Roasters had posted an hour-long masterclass from 2013 champion Turgay Yildizli. I watched the whole thing. After learning a ton, cobbled together a recipe from Yildizli, Komninakis, and Dandy’s suggestions that I thought would work in my kitchen. I ground some coffee on the Turkish setting of the Mahlkonig grinder at the Trade office, so I would have something approaching the traditional grind size this time — not worrying if it was slightly too coarse, especially as that’s what Yildizli’s recipe called for.
Heat was something I was starting to pay more attention to, too. Both champs (as well as Four Letter Word, one of my favorite shops in Chicago) use a special burner that shoots a strong, but thin flame into the center of the bottom of the brewer. My gas range at home has a few pretty powerful burners, but they’re very large in diameter, so using those would mean a ring of fire around my ibrik, but nothing directly hitting the bottom. I ended up balancing the ibrik on the grates so that one arc of that fire ring directly hit its bottom. This worked out great... eventually. On the first go I got a little too intent on looking into the middle of my pot and there may have been a subtle hair singe aroma in my kitchen (I needed to schedule a haircut anyways).
One or two fewer hairs were 100 percent worth it, though. I had a lot of fun trying out various recipes, and I eventually settled on one that worked really well with my particular coffee, grind size, ibrik model, and stove. Here are the brewing choices I ended up making:
- I stuck with a 10 to one coffee brewing ratio (with the size of my ibrik, that was 100 g of water and 10 g of coffee.
- I started with room temperature water. Some recipes recommend starting with hot water, which makes sense, as you’ll be better able to control the temperature yourself. And if you’re brewing in a larger ibrik with more water (which will take longer to get hot), I would recommend starting with warmer water. For my amount of coffee, though, starting with room temperature water worked great — and if the simplest way works, I’ll basically always choose it.
- I stirred before brewing, to make sure all the grinds were saturated and not clumping, as soon as possible. I didn’t stir during, as I prefer not to agitate any more than necessary and I didn’t find it necessary.
- I let the coffee bubble up the ibrik (the temperature didn’t go higher than 205) and then took it off the flame.
- I let it sit for one minute to continue brewing (despite it not being on the stove any more, you still have hot water and a whole bunch of grinds combined).
- I didn’t put it back on the heat, as with this grind size one rise and the 30 second rest provided more than enough extraction.
- I poured the coffee into my vessel pretty slowly, to help keep at least some of the grounds at the bottom of the ibrik and out of my cup and mouth. I found this made the drinking process easier, but you could absolutely pour the coffee into your cup right away and let the grinds settle there (all the better if you’re planning on reading fortunes from your coffee).
Serving the coffee brought a pair of choices I wasn’t used to focusing on when developing a brewing recipe: what to serve it in and what to serve it with. Turkish coffee is traditionally served in cups similar to espresso, and while I didn’t have any real demitasse in the house, I found a 4 oz, fairly narrow bowl that worked nicely. Most important, I think, is to find a cup that’s not too wide, as you’re going to have to some grinds on the bottom of your cup no matter what, and the more narrow the vessel the more coffee you’ll be able to drink before getting to that layer.
Traditionally, Turkish coffee is served with a glass of water (to drink before the coffee) and something sweet, like a Turkish Delight, to eat after the coffee. The order is important here as the water cleans your palate and eating the sweet treat before would make the coffee taste taste less sweet by comparison. I sadly didn’t have any Turkish candy at the house, but Yildizli’s Masterclass opened up the possibility of pairing Turkish coffee with other sweet things. I’d be lying if I said the peanut M&Ms I had on hand paired in any particularly special way with Boxcar’s El Salvador El Copo, but it worked out nicely, and I’m looking forward to experimenting with some more specific pairings in the future.
So after much delay, the moment of truth — I present my home Turkish-ibrik-cazve brewing recipe!
- Combine 10 grams (.35 oz) of incredibly finely ground coffee and 100 ml of room temperature water (3.5 oz) in an ibrik
- Stir the coffee grinds and water together
- Place your ibrik over a heat source, ideally a high flame centered on your ibrik
- Wait until the coffee rises (this should take 2.5 to 3.5 minutes)
- When the level hits the top of the ibrik and is about to bubble over, take it off the heat and let it stand for one minute
- Pour coffee gently into your cup or cups
- Let the coffee cool for a few minutes and sip slowly
You might need to make some adjustments based on your heat source, your particular ibrik, and most importantly, your taste. Ibriks come in many sizes and are made of many different materials, which conduct heat differently. And we all have slightly different stove tops, so while I’ve been writing about open flames, that definitely doesn’t mean you can’t perform this brew method quite well on a conduction stove. Focus on how long it’s taking your coffee to bubble over. If it’s much faster than two and a half minutes, try reducing your heat. If it’s taking much longer than three and a half, start with warmer water by giving the water a head start in the ibrik. As with all brew recipes, if you follow it to the T, but the coffee doesn’t taste how you want it to, don’t be afraid to experiment. I chose not to put the coffee back on the heat for a second “boil,” but if you think your coffee doesn’t taste sweet enough (or if you weren’t able to grind it quite fine enough) feel free to do so for extra extraction. If your coffee tastes too strong or not strong enough, this method works just as well with more or less coffee grounds.
There is, finally, the subject of flavoring. Many recipes call for adding sugar or spices like cardamom. Turkish coffee is also one of the few methods in which people commonly add sugar during the brew process, not after. Stirring in sugar afterwards would be annoying, as you’d have to wait again for the grinds to settle, so I get it, though brewing with what is essentially sugar water might make it a little harder to extract flavor from the coffee (basically, there’ll be less space in the water for those coffee particles to migrate in). Personally, I like brewing the coffee straight and letting the delicious specialty coffee (or your after-coffee sweet) provide the sugar, but if you've got a sweet tooth, just extend your brew time a bit (or put it on the heat for a second “boil”) for extra extraction.
I’m really thrilled to have added this style of coffee brewing to my home rotation. As Dandy told me, “We don’t give it the credit it deserves for being a root of coffee culture.” As I now know, I also wasn’t giving it the credit it deserves for brewing coffee that’s just as tasty as any other method. If you’re interested in having some fun with home brewing, pick up an ibrik, grab your favorite coffee, and crank up the heat!