Endangered Species? A cup of non-instant Turkish coffee
The day many of us have been dreading has finally arrived: an entrepreneur in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep has announced the development of instant Turkish coffee. Could this mean the end of hundreds of years of tradition? Sludgy and dark Turkish coffee, of course, is not only about the flavor but also about the process of making it -- the scooping in of the finely ground coffee and sugar, the mixing and the careful boiling. Is this the kind of beverage that deserves the instant treatment?
Semsettin Yildiz, maker of the new "Shazili" brand of instant Turkish coffee certainly thinks so. “Because it does not require the regular cooking process, we believe our brand will be very much preferred at offices and on airplanes, by drivers, at coffee shops, while on the beach, or while camping and picnicking," he told the state-run Anatolian Agency.
Yildiz clearly has big plans for his coffee, which will be produced in both sweetened and unsweetened versions. “By January 2011, both Turkey and the rest of the world will know about Shazili Instant Turkish Coffee,” he told AA. More details here.
Turkish coffee making has already been on a slippery slope since one Turkish appliance manufacturer introduced a few years ago a machine that brews that stuff without any human intervention.
Fortunately, there are still places left in Turkey that make the country's namesake coffee the old-fashioned way. For a truly satisfying coffee experience, visit Istanbul's Mandabatmaz, just off the pedestrian-only Istiklal boulevard. A review of the place can be found here.
The southeastern Turkish town of Midyat, an ancient winemaking center
Southeastern Turkey's ancient Assyrian Christian community has been making wine for thousands of years, but the political turmoil of the last few decades led to an exodus from the region and put many of the community's traditions at risk.
But as a new Voice of America report makes clear, the community is returning to its southeaster Turkish homeland and also reviving its winemaking tradition. From the report:
Assyrian Christian Yusuk Uluisik is crushing grapes by hand - a ritual that has not changed for centuries.
"From our fathers and grandfathers, all the way back to the time of the Jesus, we are making wine in the same way. My family has been making wine here and drinking it for centuries," he explained. "Every year they produce two to three small barrels and put them indoors until they are ready. Then we drink two to three glasses with oily food."
Gradually the juice of the grapes pours out of the bottom of a stone pot and trickles down a stone trench where it is collected and then stored in large plastic containers to ferment.
Once he was one of hundreds of families making wine but now he is just one of a few left. Most departed to escape fighting between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish state during the 1980's and 90's.
"In the past there was little demand, he noted. "Maybe a few bottles at Christmas, to a few Christian families that were left. As everyone else had gone abroad to escape the fighting and for a better life. But in the last five years there has been some kind of revival. There are many tourists visiting and we can't produce enough to meet the demand."
The Hurriyet Daily News has a story today about the travails of a Syriac (or Assyrian) Christian in southeast Turkey who is struggling mightily to get a winery off the ground. The Syriac minority, who have lived in southeast Turkey since early Christian times, have long been known in the region for the winemaking. But it appears that Yuhanna Aktas, the budding winemaker, is running into local and bureaucratic resistance to pumping up the region's wine production. From the HDN story:
The Syriac Christian and Turkish citizen living in the Midyat district of the southeastern province of Mardin has built a wine factory but said he has been unable to secure a water supply and a road for the facility.
Syriac families living in the region commonly produce wines, but it is hard for consumers to find them since they are not usually sold in shops.
Aktaş, a former jewelry maker, said in his letter that he had prepared a proposal to build a factory to produce homemade Syriac wines, a practice significant for Christians both culturally and religiously. He submitted his proposal to the Agriculture Ministry and obtained permission from the Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Agency, or TAPDK, to build the facility two years ago. He was granted permission, but, he said, his troubles only began there.
Lots has been said recently about Turkey's ambitious diplomatic moves on the global stage. But what about in terms of wine? The Scotsman recently ran an article looking at some of the more notable developments in the world of Turkish wine -- suggesting Anatolia could be the next Napa Valley -- and offering some suggestions for bottles to look out for. The article is here.
Bottles inside a Turkish winery on the island of Gokceada
Soner Cagaptay, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has become one of the Turkish government's most strident critics, frequently accusing it of turning the clock on Turkey's secularization process, is now attacking its liquor policy.
According to Cagaptay, the Islamic-rooted and socially conservative government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is systematically working to turn Turkey off to booze. How is it doing that? By making it more expensive and harder to buy alcohol, Cagaptay argues. From his piece:
Since the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, rose to power in Turkey in 2002, special taxes on alcohol have increased dramatically, making a glass of wine or beer one of the most expensive in Europe, and for that purpose anywhere in the world.