Something undeniably is happening right now in Istanbul. The city that helped birth coffee house culture is again on the cutting edge, as evidenced by Vic Frankowski's recent major feature on Kronotrope and the publishing of this highly helpful Istanbul specialty coffee map, shared by Matt Wade of Coffee Planet in Dubai. Now just a few weeks later we're featuring our first-ever Build-Outs of Summer cafe from the city on the Bosphorus.
Imagine a highly regarded Chicago hospitality design firm–Heisler, the team behind Nightwood, Bar DeVille, and more–being given cart blanche to create a stunning microroastery on an island off the coast of Istanbul. That's the narrative behind Four Letter Word, a brand new roaster / retailer that's just opened today, Friday the 27th of June, on the island of Burgaz.
FLW's story has a bit of everything, including childhood friendship, au courant coffee gear, and a design aesthetic that fuses influences from Chicago and Istanbul in equal measure. This momentum is reaching a boiling point. Istanbul is calling. Shall we all start looking at flights? In the words of the 21st century's greatest philosopher, “I want to go to there.”
As told to Sprudge by Ria Neri.
Can you tell us a bit about how Four Letter Word came to be?
We are two women, friends since childhood & grew up in Chicago. Life happened and led one of us to Istanbul. On a friendly visit one summer, we found ourselves asking the universal questions that come with age: “Where have we arrived at this phase in our lives? What we are going to do next? What is it that we would LOVE to be a part of? And wouldn’t it be great if we could do it together?”
I (Ria Neri) am a beer director/beer sommelier in the Chicago hospitality industry. As an avid beer homebrewer, science, art & sensory satisfaction have always been a part of my work/life interests. It is no surprise that coffee roasting soon became a passion.
Eylem Ozkaya is from Istanbul, Turkey. She is a self-taught baker, where once again one finds the delicate balance of science & art as vital to the process.
Beer brewing, pastry baking & coffee roasting all resonate familiar echoes of disciplined science combined with inspired artistry. This developed into a collaboration of ideas regarding a mutual interest in coffee & a coffee roastery project was born. Four Letter Word is our workshop. We will be roasting, brewing, cupping, tasting, pairing & learning in this space. Add spirited conversations & discussions into the mix–these are what friendships are made of.
That all sounds awesome, frankly. Can you tell us a bit more about your new space?
Our space is on the island of Burgaz, about 30 minutes by boat off the coast of Istanbul. The ada (island) is a favorite getaway from the hectic streets of Istanbul for both locals & tourists. Located a few steps from the island’s carsi (square), it is on the usual home route for the locals bringing a nice reprieve from the lively parade of horse buggies & people exploring along the sea. There are no cars on this island, except for the police.
Most of the design was conceived in Chicago. In the west, drawings, images & ideas were fax'd, e-mailed & ‘Dropboxed.’ Meanwhile in the east, we searched for indigenous Yenici oak, hand crafted Cini tiles, custom brass lighting, all molded by Turkish skilled craftsmen. We aimed to aesthetically re-interpret centuries old tradition through modern means, yet still pay homage to classical methods & materials, in order to realize an overall balance.
The space itself measures 8’ x 17’ – a rectangular box with 11’ ceilings. This provides sufficient room for what we need: a roaster, espresso machine, grinders, various coffee tools and plenty of shelf storage for our packaged goods. The façade is a walkup counter with just enough space for (5) 3-top tables in the front.
What's your approach to serving coffee?
Our “codes of conduct”:
1. The coffee must be responsibly sourced.
2. Roasting should allow the coffee to speak for itself, indulge the subtle nuances that make up their natural expression.
3. No tricks. Tried & true/straightforward/simple approach to brewing that arouses the senses. Always serve coffee with a smile.
4. We are always learning, in order to serve you & us better.
Tell us all about the gear you'll be using.
Tell us more about your design collaboration–did you work with anyone specific?
Yes! The design for the space was concepted by Kevin Heisner of Heisler Hospitality from Chicago. He is also a partner in the roastery project. We feel very lucky to have him on our team, he has designed some pretty fab spaces in Chicago as well as globally.