A popular Turkish proverb claims “a cup of coffee is remembered for 40 years.” Although it’s perhaps best understood to point toward the enduring power of hospitality, it also reflects a cultural attitude about coffee in general: coffee is meant to be savored.

Unlike espresso, which can be taken standing up at the bar, Turkish coffee, by necessity, requires you to take your time. To enjoy a coffee, like the grounds, one must settle down.

You also need to eat something. In Turkey, coffee is almost always taken with food, be it a piece of Turkish delight or something more substantial.

Over the last 10 years, third wave coffee culture has taken Turkey’s largest city by storm, creating a sort of Hegelian synthesis where pour-over drippers meet copper cezves and everything in between.

As specialty coffee moves from the fringes to the center of Istanbul social life, many coffee shops have turned to new frontiers: reimagining traditional coffee pairings. Whether it’s reinventing Turkish delight or elevating Turkish breakfast, here are five places in Istanbul where the food is every bit as good as the coffee.

istanbul food williams roastery exterior

William’s Roastery

Coffee and breakfast go together practically everywhere. But Turkey takes things to another level.

The Turkish word for “breakfast,” kahvaltı, literally means “under coffee,” denoting breakfast’s most essential role: lining your stomach with something solid so you can start drinking coffee. William’s Roastery in Fenerbahçe offers a contemporary take on Turkish breakfast, featuring hyper-regional ingredients and house-baked bread.

istanbul food williams antakyadan breakfastplate

Not to be missed is the “Antakya’dan” breakfast plate. Sunny-side-up eggs are paired with fried goat cheese, olive salad, and a spicy baked yogurt all made from ingredients sourced from owner William Zinneha’s hometown of Antakya.

On the coffee side, expect microlot coffees roasted in small batches on William’s 5kg Probat roaster. When Sprudge visited William’s Roastery, the Colombia, El Indio was tasting fruity and sweet on filter and espresso.

istanbul food william zinneha
William Zinneha of William’s Roastery.
William’s Roastery is located at Fenerbahçe, Fener Kalamış Cd. No:61 D:3B, 34726 Kadıköy/İstanbul. Visit their official website and follow them on Instagram.

istanbul food marsel turkish delight

Marsel

Perhaps the most traditional Turkish coffee pairing is lokum, better known as Turkish delight to English-speaking audiences. And for an edgy, irreverent take on the classic Turkish sweet, look no further than Marsel. You can find Marsel’s colorful packaging by the cash register at many Istanbul coffee shops, but there’s no better place to taste their expanding range of Levantine treats than their Bomonti confectionary and tasting room.

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Whether it’s the neon lace doilies or the iconic nazar boncuğu (evil eye), the vibes are pure Anatolian psychedelic. But even if you’ve never had a slipper thrown at you by your Turkish grandmother, you can appreciate the avantgarde flavor pairings dreamed up by Marsel founder Selim Cenkel. Whether it’s rose with blackberry, or pomegranate with sumac, expect big flavors that aren’t afraid of a little acidity. More recently Marsel has launched their own take on badem ezmesi—a Turkish version of marzipan that’s well worth a taste.

istanbul food marsel packaging

istanbul food marsel selim cenkel
Selim Cenkel of Marsel.

On the coffee side of things a selection of single origin coffees from Coffee Dept. is available on filter. For Turkish coffee, Marsel keeps things classic with Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi. While not exactly specialty grade, Mehmet Efendi is the ubiquitous brand that defines the word “coffee” for millions of Turkish citizens. No visit to Istanbul is complete without trying a cup from the 150-year-old roaster.

istanbul food marsel turkish delights platter 2

Marsel is located at Merkez, Oktay Cebeci Sk. No:9, 34381 Şişli/İstanbul. Visit their official website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

istanbul food petra coffee

Petra Coffee

How does one classify Petra Coffee?

Classic yet modernist? Bleeding-edge trendsetter? Cooler-than-cool cultural curator?Petra’s cafes, which are scattered around the European side of Istanbul, somehow effortlessly toe the line between Parisian bistro and futurist utopian fever dream.

The roastery has long blazed its own trail, meticulously importing and roasting its own coffee.But as good as the coffee is, Petra’s world-class food program is what really sets them apart. Whether it’s a classic French omelet or falafel and hummus, the menu at Petra is a rare take on global cuisine that doesn’t miss.

istanbul food petra cilbur 2

Although the baristas tend to be more hyped on the Japanese katsu curry, for an elegant take on a Turkish breakfast classic, try the çılbur.

Two perfectly poached eggs are served on a bed of thick, garlicky yogurt. The dish is garnished with a sprig of dill, a generous pour of chili oil, and served with a thick slice of Petra’s housebaked sourdough bread.

Even Nigella Lawson thinks it’s the perfect breakfast. And although Petra’s cavernous headquarters in Gayretepe is not to be missed on any Istanbul coffee crawl, my favorite location is Petra Maslak, which offers some of the most stunning bar design I’ve seen anywhere.

istanbul food petra maslak bar

Petra Coffee has multiple locations in Istanbul. Visit their official website and follow them on Instagram.

istanbul food coffee dept borekitas

Coffee Dept.

You can drink Coffee Dept.’s coffee at a wide assortment of neighborhood cafes and even Michelin-starred restaurants, but the original location in Balat is loved by the motley crew of creatives and expats who call Istanbul’s old Jewish quarter home.

Although Coffee Dept. is perhaps best known as a wholesale roastery, their cafes offer house-made baked goods and frequent collaborations with contemporary and legacy Istanbul food companies. One limited-release includes a coffee-flavored Turkish delight made in partnership with Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir. This confectioner, first founded in 1775, is credited with inventing Turkish delight in the early 1800s.

Perhaps Coffee Dept.’s secret culinary weapon is founder Metin Benbasat’s wife: cookbook author Lian Penso Benbasat. Benbasat runs the Turkish-language food podcast Bu Kız Hep Aç and has worked to help preserve the recipes of Istanbul’s historic Sephardic community. At Coffee Dept’s Nişantaşı cafe, guests can try one such dish: börekitas: potato and eggplant-stuffed pastries topped with black sesame seeds.

Coffee Dept. has multiple locations in Istanbul. Visit their official website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

istanbul food grandma menemem

Grandma

If you want to get technical, Grandma is more of a brunch place than a coffee shop. For anthropological reasons that remain elusive, the brunch crowd somehow transcends cultural and national boundaries. But the food at Grandma makes it well worth braving the crowds and even waiting for a table. The espresso drinks are solid, so don’t be afraid to order a cappuccino with that almond croissant.

Culinary travelers looking for a more cultural experience should try the Grandma usulü menemen. Like more traditional versions of the classic breakfast dish, Grandma’s menemen is a pan-fried blen of tomatos, peppers, and eggs. But Grandma adds a generous scoop of acuka, a walnut and pepper paste, that in my humble opinion takes the dish to new culinary heights.

Although Grandma has several locations around town, their Nişantaşı cafe remains the place to see and be seen.

Grandma has multiple location in Istanbul. Visit their official website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Michael Butterworth is a coffee educator and consultant based in Istanbul, Turkey. Read more Michael Butterworth for Sprudge.

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