Kensington. Beverly Hills. The Upper East Side. Every city has a neighborhood that denotes wealth, privilege, and luxury. Although Istanbul's upper crust has left the city center in droves in recent decades, the historic Nişantaşı neighborhood, with its fashion houses and Art Deco apartment blocks, still occupies a certain place of distinction in the Istanbul landscape. But there’s more to Nişantaşı than Range Rovers driven by private chauffeurs idling outside the Louis Vuitton store (though you will see Range Rovers driven by private chauffeurs idling outside the Louis Vuitton store). The neighborhood is also home to perhaps the highest concentration of specialty coffee shops in the city.
Specialty coffee, after all, is a luxury good, a fact felt more acutely in a country like Turkey, where the going rate for a pour-over or espresso is almost identical to Western Europe or America, but the median income is considerably lower. But these cafes are not simply the haunts of the bored bourgeois. Much like any specialty coffee shop hub, Nişantaşı’s booming specialty coffee scene provides a place the city’s growing creative class can find a place to work, or take a cheeky break with a cortado and a slice of cake.
From hair salons to coworking spaces, Petra Coffee is everywhere in Istanbul, and for good reason. The roaster/retailer was one of the early champions of quality, and has slowly created one of the strongest brands in Turkish specialty coffee. But visit their Topağacı location and you don’t need to know any of that—you’ll just find a great neighborhood cafe.
Whether it’s the wooden newspaper holders or the century-old antique bar, the interior of Petra feels timeless, perhaps more Parisian than Turkish. Marble and cast iron tables line a bench that runs the length of the shotgun-shaped space. Baristas wear Petra’s trademark striped shirts and white lab coats, and ring a bell every time an order is up, short-order-diner-style.
House-baked pastries are shuttled over daily from Petra's Gayrettepe headquarters, along with, of course, an extensive selection of single-origin coffees, including famed estates like Finca Tamana in Colombia. Espresso, always a single origin, is prepared on a La Marzocco Strada EP and Mazzer Robur grinder. Petra is also one of the few places you’ll find doing a full size batch brew on a FETCO brewer, a luxury in an espresso-centric specialty coffee scene.
The Istanbul specialty coffee scene is dominated by microroasters, with almost as many roasters as cafes. This makes Borderline Coffee’s international multi-roaster concept a breath of fresh air in the local community. Coffee comes from as far afield as Massachusetts’s George Howell and Oslo’s Tim Wendelboe, in addition to local roasters like Boxx, Kimma, and Probador Collectiva. Cofounder Burçin Ergünt has a background in digital marketing and design, so it’s little wonder the interior at Borderline is on the leading edge of cafe design, complete with a foliage wall emblazoned with a neon sign of Borderline’s bomb-like logo, and rearrangeable peg board that displays a selection of Moccamaster brewers and Stanley thermoses.
A Mahlkönig Peak is filled with Borderline’s house espresso: a single-origin Burundi custom roasted by Boxx, but any of the single-origin options are available as an EK shot, including Tim Wendelboe’s appropriately named “Espresso for Milk.” Six single-origin options are offered by-the-cup, prepared on two Marco SP-9s.
Although the vibes at Borderline are decidedly coffee shop, the food menu here is just as serious as the coffee selection. In Turkey, coffee is rarely consumed without something sweet on the side, and Borderline offers a wide array of cookies, cakes, and pastries, many of which are gluten-free or vegan and all of which are baked on the premises. For more substantial food options, quinoa bowls, salads, and fresh sandwiches makes Borderline coffee a popular lunch destination in its own right.
With Turkey’s lax rules regarding pets in restaurants, don’t be surprised if a customer or even barista has brought their dog or cat into the cafe.
Gravité Coffee Bar
Rising taxes, marketing bans, and other restrictions from the ruling political party have put a serious damper on alcohol consumption in Turkey, but that hasn’t stopped the global mixology craze from reaching Istanbul. With the burgeoning cocktail and specialty coffee scenes, perhaps it was inevitable that someone in Istanbul took a stab at combining the two, and the result is Gravité Coffee Bar on Poyracık Sokak. The coffee and cocktail concept looks good on paper, but in reality it’s challenging to create a space where people enjoy both waking up with a hot cup of coffee and unwinding with something a little stronger. With a refined but inviting interior, Gravité Coffee Bar manages to thread the needle and create an intimate atmosphere where one feels comfortable bellying up to the bar with either an espresso or Old Fashioned in hand.
The coffee is supplied by a rotating cast of roasters, most recently Coffee Department, a local roaster located in Istanbul’s Balat neighborhood. Two espresso options are prepared with a Mahlkönig K30 twin and a teal La Marzocco FB80, while single-origin options are offered as a pour-over or AeroPress. The adjacent American Hospital makes this cafe a hotspot for doctors, nurses, and the neighborhood’s sizable expat community.
Ministry of Coffee
An Australian flag hangs in the window at Ministry of Coffee, which boasts the tagline “Australian Coffee Roasters.” An antipodean influence can be seen in coffee shops across Europe, and Istanbul is no exception. Ministry of Coffee, more often referred to as “MOC” in the local coffee community, was one of the first specialty coffee shops to open up in Nişantaşı, and has grown to three locations in the neighborhood (not to mention a roastery in nearby Bomonti.)
In contrast to the Nordic-influenced ultra-light roast you’ll get at many of the coffee shops in Nişantaşı, MOC features many of the fixtures once synonymous with the Aussie coffee scene: espresso is on the ristretto side, servers provide table service, and of course the much-maligned flat white joins the menu alongside more standard fare.
With two floors and sidewalk seating, MOC’s original location on Şakayık Sokak is one of the largest cafes in the area, and certainly among its most popular. Owner Deniz Yıldız Düzgün offers both home barista workshop and accredited SCA classes.
The La Marzocco Strada EP, and Mahlkönig grinders, and tile are all matte white at Spada Coffee, accented by soft wood tones and the occasional splash of blue-gray. But the thoughtful interior doesn’t keep the sidewalk seating from filling up first before anyone ventures inside. “Spada” means “sword” in Italian—a play on owner Cumhur Kılıç’s last name—but you might be able to figure that out from their logo. A spiral staircase leads up to a surprisingly open upstairs, where guests can perch at a laptop bar, or settle into some soft seating.
Spada recently began roasting its own coffee, but also features a guest roaster, often from local companies like Old Java and Probador Collectiva, and sometimes international brands like Berlin’s The Barn. For cafe crawlers that might be hitting the upper limits of their caffeine tolerance, Spada features a selection of kombuchas—still a rarity in Istanbul.
When one walks into Magado Coffee, they are immediately confronted with a very curious cafe design. The split-level shop features a full espresso bar upstairs, almost hovering over a downstairs seating area, with the front door opening onto a landing between the spaces. A quick trip up the half flight of stairs reveals a selection of four single-origin coffees from Boxx Coffee Roasters, in addition to a blend of Brazil and Colombia in the espresso hopper.
The cafe takes its name from a village in Kenya, but during my most recent visit the coffees were from Colombia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Burundi. Per the barista’s recommendation, I settled on a V60 pour-over of the Burundi, Ruhinga, a sweet, fruit-forward coffee perhaps enhanced by a rare sunny spring day.
The centuries-old Teşvikiye Mosque, with its fading yellow Neo-Baroque exterior, is one of the most iconic landmarks of Nişantaşı, but a bright red and white cafe called Grandma might be more emblematic of the neighborhood today. A table can be hard to come by during peak hours at this popular brunch destination, but if you’re lucky enough to score a spot, you’ll soon understand why the bakery and cafe attracts a wider clientele than most specialty coffee shops in the area.
The menu here is equal parts French and Turkish breakfast classics, complemented by a decadent array of pastries, cakes, and sourdough breads. Visitors to Turkey shouldn’t pass on trying Grandma’s take on menemen, a dish of sautéed tomatoes, pepper, and egg served with a generous dollop of labne (something like cream cheese) and Grandma’s signature sourdough bread.
Grandma might be more bakery than coffee shop, but the coffee is treated with the same level of care that has earned them such a stellar reputation for food. The cappuccino here ranks among the best we’ve had in the city, with rich, chocolatey espresso and perfectly textured milk. Although the whole bean coffee is sold in private label bags, rumor has it the coffee here is also roasted by Boxx.
Michael Butterworth is the publisher of Pilgrimaged, based in Louisville, Kentucky. This is Michael Butterworth's first feature for Sprudge.