‘Coffee should be as black as hell, as strong as
death, andas sweet as love.’ (Old Turkish saying)
We’ve been playing backgammon on these unusually cold, wet, early spring evenings, gathered round small tables at the Green Man Pub, or in the common areas of the building. One of the players, Zina Lee, has been telling me about her liking of a certain beverage that’s popular in this building: ‘There are certain things that make civilization more . . . civilized. Overall, they tend to be the ones that encourage a sense of luxuriousness in one’s existence, and if they support a sense of community and of sharing with other people, so much the better.
‘For me, the inky little cups of Turkish coffee are exactly that — it’s not so much the coffee itself that’s so wonderful, but what tends to happen over the cups of it, even if I’m drinking it alone. I was in a tiny, tiny village in the pastoral English countryside visiting friends a bit ago, and after dinner we had Turkish coffee, some tunes, and a great deal of talking and laughing, in the lovely, warm, hospitable dining room of that unbelievably old house.
‘And I’ve just come back from a lovely little Turkish restaurant in the East End of London, having had a wonderful dinner with two handsome English gentlemen of my acquaintance. One is quiet, slender and dark, with a sardonic twitch to his mouth; the other is bluff, solidly-built and fair, with his sardonic twitch in the lift of his left eyebrow; but both of them are devastatingly intelligent, both can be dismayingly erudite, and also the both of them are vastly quick and entertaining. Over snifters of Turkish brandy and those tiny white cups of sweet hot coffee, the two had me giggling non-stop with their sharp, witty, and exquisitely detailed descriptions of the worst English towns one might have the misfortune to visit, in a rather loopy reversal on the more normal litany of sights one really must see.
Turkish coffee doesn’t cause these experiences, exactly, but they form an ineffable, intrinsic part of the conversations I’ve had while drinking the stuff.’
I’ve been sipping cups of Turkish coffee with Béla at a very small food stall that appears to have existed for quite some years near the Library at the Green Man building . . . a small square of achingly sweet baklava, some Turkish coffee, and a friend’s company have been a luxury for a late afternoon break for no little time, thanks to the proprietor, a small, neat, clean-shaven gentleman of a certain age with a spotless white apron highlighting his closely-cropped jet-black hair and eyes.
He’s very skilled with his mortar and spoon, our host, grinding the beans to a very fine fluff, or gently stirring in the foam of the coffee as it boils in the gleaming ibrik over his little burner; part of the pleasure of the experience is watching him prepare the coffee after you’ve ordered it.
Something I never noticed until after the conversations with Zina about her digestif of choice is that, as soon as the Turkish coffee makes an appearance on the table, there’s an almost imperceptible relaxing of body tension, of the conversation turning towards something just that much more enjoyable, just a gentle click towards ‘civilized’ on the dial of the day.
The Turks have another old saying about coffee: ‘To drink one cup of coffee together guarantees forty years of friendship.’ At this point, Béla and I may have to live a few extra centuries to celebrate a friendship blessed with many cups of foamy Turkish coffee. May there be many more.