The places we visit and live become a part of us–literally–through all we imbibe and consume. Though I’ve only been in Georgia for three weeks, I can already sense that the demitasse of Turkish coffee with which my host family starts each morning will remain a part of my daily routine long after I’ve returned home.
Served in nearly every home, restaurant, and bar in Batumi, turkuli q’ava is as ubiquitous here as the quintessentially Georgian khachapuri, or cheese bread. This should come as no surprise: a 25-minute bus ride down the coast takes you to an otherwise stunning rocky beach where you can gaze at Turkish border control from your lounge chair. The Ottoman empire controlled this corner of Georgia until 1878, and 30% of the region’s population are Muslims.
When I’ve ordered Turkish coffee in Istanbul or the United States, the server typically asks how I prefer it—plain, semi-sweet, or sweet—but here it’s assumed you’ll take it with plenty of sugar. To brew a cup, my host mother Shushana tosses a tablespoon each of sugar and coffee ground fine as powder into a jezve, a heavy-bottomed metal cup narrower at the neck than at the base, with a long handle and a lip at the top for expedited pouring. She stirs in a demitasse cupful of water (about 3 ounces) and sets it to boil directly on top of the gas burner.
Just as the thickened brew begins to bubble and erupt towards the top of the jezve, she removes it from the heat and pours it into the demitasse. The fine grounds settle at the bottom of the cup, where they remain as the coffee is drunk off the top. Georgians take advantage of any opportunity to enjoy a cup: not only before breakfast, but also as an afternoon pick-me-up with chocolate and fruit, or even late in the evening to wash down a supra.
The ritual embodies an attitude towards food and life that resonates with me. It is both leisurely and efficient, the quantity small but its effects potent. You cannot toss this coffee back like a shot of espresso unless you are prepared for a mouthful of grinds. It staunchly refuses to be gulped, and it does not come in a paper cup with a plastic lid. (Though perhaps someone who has visited a Turkish McDonalds will prove me wrong?) By its very form, it forces us to stop, sit, and enjoy. Don’t mind if I do.