If you have ever wondered about the difference between Arabic coffee vs Turkish coffee, you’re not alone. Is it a rose by any other name?
At first glance, they may appear to be different names for the same drink. Indeed, they have many similarities, and some people do use the two names interchangeably. However, there are also some key differences between the two. Let’s dive in.
Arabic Coffee vs Turkish Coffee
Both beverages boast a rich history and hold great cultural significance.
First, the similarities
Here are some commonalities between these two popular kinds of coffee.
Type of coffee beans used
Generally speaking, both Arabic coffee and Turkish coffee use very finely ground arabica coffee beans.
In either case, the finely ground coffee resembles a fine powder. Therefore a small grind size is essential to both Arabian coffee and Turkish coffee.
That being said, Arabic coffee uses slightly coarser grinds. However, they are still much finer than what you would use in a drip coffee maker or French press, both of which use a much coarser grind.
If you are shopping for either one in the West, you would have luck looking for Turkish coffee ground beans.
Small serving sizes
Traditionally, people serve tiny cups of both Arabic coffee and Turkish coffee. These are both strong coffee with intense flavor, so you don’t need much.
Generally, the cups hold up to 2-3 ounces. However, sometimes people don’t fill them all the way. Then, they can offer their guests multiple servings as a symbol of hospitality.
When making these coffees, you can use espresso cups or demitasse cups of water to measure out the correct amount based on how many cups of coffee you wish to serve.
Unfiltered coffees – similar method of preparation for both
The brewing methods for both drinks share a similar process.
Both Arabic coffee and Turkish coffee are boiled and unfiltered types of coffee. You can read about the health benefits of this kind of coffee in my previous article.
While the brewing process for both share commonalities, the exact preparation methods have slight variations, as we’ll see below.
Tasseography – divining the future
People try reading their fortunes in the coffee grounds of both Arabic coffee and Turkish coffee, although this practice appears to be more widespread with Turkish coffee.
After finishing their coffee (of course leaving the sediment at the bottom), they turn the cup over to rest upside-down on the saucer. This allows the cup to cool and any excess liquid to drain down. Then, they attempt to interpret any symbols or patterns that appear in the coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup.
Tasseography, also called tasseomancy or tasseology, also includes reading tea leaves and wine sediments.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the similarities between these two drinks, let’s explore some of the characteristics that set Arabic coffee vs Turkish coffee apart.
The differences between Arabic coffee vs Turkish coffee
First, it’s helpful to know that there are two distinct kinds of Arabic coffee, each unique to their own different regions.
Peninsular Arabic coffee is commonly drunk in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, and parts of the United Arab Emirates like Abu Dhabi. It is much lighter, so much so that it may be clear, yellow, or light brown.
Levantine Arabic coffee is commonly drunk in Middle Eastern countries including Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. It is much darker, and is in fact quite similar to what we are calling Turkish coffee.
As you can see, there is no one precise definition of Arabic coffee.
With that being said, here are some of the important differences between these types of coffee, Arabic coffee vs Turkish coffee.
Coffee bean roasting
When making Turkish coffee, people traditionally use dark-roasted arabica coffee. This yields the characteristic bitter taste and strong aroma you probably associate with coffee.
To make Arabic coffee, people use coffee beans that have been roasted either very lightly or heavily.
In Saudi Arabia, for example, Arabic coffee commonly uses light roast coffee beans. The beans are so lightly roasted in parts of the Arabian peninsula that the beans may still be green. As a result, Saudi coffee is almost clear like broth, or more yellow than the dark brown we might expect. This yields an aromatic herbal, fresh, and subtle flavor. The saffron people sometimes add (along with a cinnamon stick and perhaps some cloves) may also enhance the yellow color.
In contrast, in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Levant, people mix dark roasted beans and light roasted beans together before grinding them for their Lebanese coffee, which is still considered a variation of Arabic coffee. Levantine Arabic coffee typically contains just unspiced coffee or only cardamom.
This visible difference in roasting time is the main difference you’ll see at first glance when comparing Arab coffee with Turkish coffee.
Different Spices used
The use of spices can be one helpful way to differentiate these two coffees, although there is some overlap.
People may brew both Arabic coffee and Turkish coffee plain or with cardamom.
However, traditional Arabic coffee also sometimes includes saffron, cloves, and cinnamon.
By contrast, Turkish coffee sometimes uses mastic, salep, and ambergris.
(Quick safety note: some Arabic coffee recipes call for rosewater, which is not the same as rose essential oil. Many essential oils are not food grade, so read your labels carefully!)
Traditional Turkish coffee includes any sugar from the very beginning, so you must specify when ordering it how sweet you would like your cup.
You can choose sade (plain, unsweetened coffee), az şekerli (slightly sweet), orta şekerli (medium sweet), or şekerli (sweet or very sweet) Turkish coffee.
People stir the coffee and sugar into the cold water, and then they do not stir the blend again during brewing or serving. This allows the grounds to settle at the bottom. It also allows a bit of foam to form on top of the Turkish coffee. Stirring would break up the thick layer of foam.
By contrast, people generally prepare unsweetened Arabic coffee and save the sugar for a sweet on the side, like a dried date.
Preparation of Arabic coffee vs Turkish coffee
People brew authentic Turkish coffee in a special pot called a cezve or ibrik. This Turkish coffee pot is a small pot made from copper, which is narrow with a long handle. Sometimes they return the pot to the heat to boil multiple times to try to obtain more foam on top.
For Arabic coffee, people sometimes use a cezve, but often just brew the coffee in an ornate serving pot with a graceful and narrow neck, called a dallah, which resembles a pitcher.
Brewing Arabic coffee also takes significantly longer than brewing Turkish coffee, which is done in much less time.
When making Turkish coffee, people stir the coffee powder and any sugar and spices directly into cold water and then place it over the heat source. Once hot, it just brews for a few minutes.
To make Arabic coffee, people boil the water first, and then add the coffee to the hot water. They let it brew over low heat for about 15 minutes, then add any spices. Then, they boil it all together and finally allow the spices and coffee grounds to settle, so the whole process can take up to 30 minutes.
You could call the Middle East the cradle of coffee.
Our earliest evidence of coffee consumption comes from modern-day Yemen, dating back to the mid-15th century.
It’s even in the name coffee, which traces its roots back to Arabic. Our English word coffee comes from the Dutch koffie, which was borrowed from the Ottoman Turkish kahve, which in turn was borrowed from the Arabic qahwa. Qahwa (or qahwah) may refer to coffee’s appetite-suppressing qualities, based on its similarity to the Arabic word qahiya, which means to lack hunger.
By the 16th century, traveling merchants had introduced coffee to the Ottoman Empire. Then, the Ottoman governor of Yemen, Özdemir Pasha, officially presented coffee to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
From there, though, Turkish coffee seems to have spread further abroad than Arabic coffee, making its way through the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans, and into the coffee shops of France and Britain for the first time.
By contrast, Arabic coffee seems to have remained in the Arab world and remains popular closer to the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf region.
Serving customs and coffee ware
People serve Arabic coffee in a small, delicate cup called a finjān, which has no handles.
In contrast, similar small Turkish coffee cups go in little metal cages with handles.
Additionally, people sometimes transfer Arabic coffee out of the pot they brewed it in into a more decorative pitcher called a dallah before serving.
This is different from Turkish coffee, which people leave as undisturbed as possible to avoid disturbing the thick foam they hope to create on top.
Often though, the host will prepare Arabic coffee in the kitchen. Then, they bring out a tray of small cups to guests, with no pot in sight.
What people serve with Arabic coffee vs Turkish coffee
Much like serving biscotti with espresso, people traditionally serve a sweet treat alongside both Arabic coffee and Turkish coffee. This can help offset the bitterness of the coffee. However, the sweet in question differs between the two.
People generally serve dates with Arabic coffee, or dried fruit, candied fruit, or nuts.
With Turkish coffee, though, people generally serve Turkish delight, a rose-flavored jelly candy. Specialty Turkish delight may include pistachios, hazelnuts, and other flavorings such as pomegranate.
In addition, people often serve a glass of water with Turkish coffee to offset the robust flavor.
Coffee culture – Social customs around preparing and drinking Arabic coffee vs Turkish coffee
Coffee serves an important ceremonial function in hospitality.
For Arabic coffee, people often roast their own coffee beans at home. Then, they grind, brew, and serve their coffee all in front of their guests as an elaborate part of the conversation.
The host (or the host’s eldest son) serves Arabic coffee to guests in their home. They move clockwise around the room, serving the eldest or highest-status guests first. Everyone holds their cups in their hands, and when the host pours a refill, you hold the cup in your right hand.
As guests talk and drink their coffee, the host keeps re-filling their cups until they gesture that they are done. They do this by tilting the empty cup to the left and right a few times, almost as if the cup is shaking its head no.
It is polite to drink no more than 3 of the small cups. Guests say, “Daymen,” which translates to always, after the third cup. This expresses the wish to the host, “May you always have the means to serve coffee.”
Turkish coffee also plays an important role in hospitality and social gatherings in similar ways. However, it is also acceptable to just drink a cup on your own as an afternoon pick-me-up, or after dinner.
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Another perspective – the politics of coffee names
What’s in a name? If you, like Shakespeare, wish to understand this question, just look to shifting political tides.
What people used to commonly call Turkish coffee suddenly became Greek coffee, Bosnian coffee, Armenian coffee, Cypriot coffee, and even the historically anachronistic Byzantine coffee.
(The Byzantine Empire had already risen and fallen by the time Turkish coffee came to the Ottoman Empire, although the geographic resonance remains strong.)
What do these variations have in common?
A history of Turkish or Ottoman invasion, conflict, or even, in the case of Armenia, genocide.
This style of coffee, once it left Arab countries, became known globally as Turkish coffee, even in unlikely places like a Mexican restaurant.
Of course, different local variations can take on a life of their own. Egyptian coffee, for example, generally contains spices including cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves, while Turkish coffee is still recognizably itself without any spices at all.
However, strong views, national pride, and anti-Turkish feelings led to a much wider array of names for what, in essence, was the same drink – Turkish coffee, also called Arabic coffee.
Both Arabic coffee and Turkish coffee are boiled, unfiltered coffees commonly served in small cups. They both use finely ground, primarily Arabica coffee beans.
The best way to tell one from the other is to look at the color, which will help you determine the roast. Levantine Arabic coffee is admittedly hard to distinguish from Turkish coffee. However, peninsular Arabic coffee is much lighter in color, herbaceous rather than bitter, much more likely to be strongly spiced, and much less likely to be sweetened.
People serve Arabic coffee as a cornerstone of hospitality. While people do the same with Turkish coffee, they may also drink Turkish coffee after dinner or by themselves in a much less formal way.
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Turkish coffee recipe card
Here’s a quick recipe for Turkish coffee, which is quite similar to Levantine Arabic coffee. Try it out – it’s a lot of fun!
- 1 cup water
- 4 tsp finely ground coffee (Turkish grind)
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/8 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
- Measure out all your ingredients.
- Stir all ingredients together in a small pot until the sugar seems dissolved, then bring it to just under a boil over medium heat.
- Once the Turkish coffee starts foaming or bubbling, remove it from the heat and pour it into small cups. Spoon any remaining foam into the cups if necessary.
- Allow the grounds to settle at the bottom of the cup, then enjoy your delicious coffee!
You can use espresso cups or small teacups. Each serving is about 2 ounces.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 8Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 3mgCarbohydrates: 2gFiber: 0gSugar: 2gProtein: 0g