Turk Kahve by John L. Neel

I may have been the only soldier, ever, who didn't live on coffee. Now I love it, but only have one cup a day, usually, to begin my day and accompany my breakfast and the news.

I became a fan of Turkish Coffee during my first tour of Turkey, December 1983 through March, 1985. I fought it. I didn't like coffee in the first place and the thick coffee the Turks drink didn't look like it would be good at all. But in Turkey, Tea and Coffee are part of the social culture.

In the fall of 1984, I took the LSE Alternate War Headquarters to Terkidag, on the Sea of Marmara, by Turkish Landing ship(LST). Once there and set up, my job was done, except for the day-to-day administration of the HQ, so I grabbed up our interpreter, a young soldier from Istanbul, Murat, to go recon the Drop Zone that the 82nd would be using during the exercise.

The “recon” took all of a morning, and the rest of the trip became a 3-day boondoggle in Istanbul. Murat had told me, “If you get me to our summer house, my family will take care of the rest of the trip.”

I had been to Türk “summer homes” before. They were usually small, bare-bones affairs, with little draw other than their close vicinity to the coast. I paid for the bus tickets into Istanbul, Mini-bus fare to Bebek, food on the way, and taxi fare to his mom's house, on the Bosporus. This “summer home” was a palace. There were Yachts moored behind the house and two big Mercedes in the drive. As Murat and I walked down the driveway in the dimming light of day, through the well-kept gardens, he pointed out his BMW.

I knew this was going to be fun.

The first of Murat's people I met was his Mom, a statuesque, beautiful lady who carried herself like the queen of her world and, truly, she was. Her house was beautifully furnished, with marble floors, large Turkish carpets, and a full-sized grand piano in her music room. She was gracious, like all Turks, to this new visitor to her country, her city, and her home. I felt welcome and was shown every courtesy.

After showing me around, showing my room for the next three nights, and making sure I had a bite to eat, she brought Kahve to the Balcony where Murat and I were dining and taking in the beautiful lights of Istanbul, the Bosporus bridge, the ferries going to and fro, and the minarets climbing above it all.

There was no way I was going to insult this lady by refusing her coffee, so I made up my mind that I would finish it, no matter what.

It was amazing, Hot, Thick, and Sweet. Why had I deprived myself of such a delicacy?

For the rest of the weekend, we drank Kahve, everywhere we went. I drank kahve on the balcony in the mornings at breakfast, in Belarbi at their Winter Home with Murat's little sister Eda, on excursions around the city with Murat gal-pals Nil, Funda, and Yesim, visiting friends Melek and Sema, over lunch as we walked the city, and over dinner at the edge of the Black Sea at Murat's uncle's seafood restaurant. We ate all day long at his uncle's place and couldn't spend a dime. Amazing food, amazing drive along the Bosporus.

During my three tours, Kahve would be a great part of my Turkish Life. From dinner and appetizers at Nurgul's house, parties at Gulderen's place with Fatuş, Vern, and Ellen, Gil and Mukarem's wedding, staying awake at Carnivale into the wee hours listening to Handan, to walking across the street from my apartment to have coffee with my favorite waitress, Burçin, at my favorite coffee shop Matisse, my love for Türk Kahve grew to a passion.

Matisse would become My Coffee Shop. My first visit there, Burçin said, simply, “I was wondering when you would come over.” I had noticed the staff there, especially Burçin, watching me as I came home from work or returned from shopping with groceries. I thought that maybe they didn't like Americans and resolved to go over and make friends... show them that Americans were nice people, and, as I remember, to just talk to this Turkish beauty. I thought that maybe she could stem the tide of loneliness for a few moments.

The whole time, they were thinking, according to the owner, “Why doesn't this American come get some great coffee; we're just across the street.” Also, I think they thought I had no friends, and, before I met Sevda and Berna, they were correct. But I had them. Even if our initial friendship consisted of a mutual staring contest and me watching them from my balcony as I played my guitar on pretty days, watching Matisse helped me while away the lonely hours.

I shared coffee at Matisse with all my friends during that magical summer of 2001. Everyone loved their coffee. Steve and Nur met me there as he left the country, handing Nur off as a new friend. Gill met me there often once he returned to Turkey after Kosovo. I even chose Matisse and their kahve for my goodbye lunch with my most faithful and precious Türk friend, Sevda, a sad, tearful moment for both of us.

Matisse is now a Subway.

Besides the taste and the sharing, the next best thing I love about the coffee is Fortune Telling. It seems that coffee grounds at the bottom of a cup can be read by the enlightened and gifted. Once the coffee is finished, simply turn the cup upside down on the saucer. For a better reading, place a gold ring on the bottom of the cup. Doing so is a challenge to every self-respecting Turkish lady within sight.

I have met some interesting people this way, including the Gypsy lady at a cafe in Istanbul, who told me, during my first reading, that I would become very rich and receive some great news, soon, from Ankara. I thanked her and tipped her handsomely for this information. Come to think of it, my life is very rich and rewarding, and now that Sevda is in Ankara, I get good news from there often.

Burçin's reading was sweet. She saw a long life, many grandchildren, and much happiness. She got it all right.

My most amazing reading was from one of Jerry and Mookie's friends, Şule, at dinner right after Kosovo. When I turned over my cup, all of the other women at the table began talking to Şule. She seemed hesitant but agreed. Once she picked up my cup, the others all circled her, looking over her shoulder.

Her reading was very specific. “You will go on a trip very soon. While on this trip, you will give a speech. This speech will be very important to someone there. The outcome of your speech will be to your liking. You will help save a life.”

Unknown to anyone in that dinner party, I left for Germany the next morning, to testify at the murder trial of a soldier, charged with negligently discharging his weapon resulting in the death of a 6-year-old boy. My testimony pointed out that everyone in his chain of command, by their gross neglect, was as responsible for the accident as the soldier. The jury agreed with me. The soldier was acquitted of all charges.

Now, I don't believe in fortune-telling, but then again, there are these three readings that make me wonder.

You have to be careful with Türk Kahve; there is a thing as Too Much. I found this out when visiting my Türk Counterpart, Sergeant Major Şahin, at his home. “Come over for lunch,” he said. Lunch lasted for about ten hours as he paraded a well-orchestrated flow of family and friends through his home to meet “Can(pronounced Jon) Baba,” his American friend. We ate and drank coffee the whole time. I have never been so honored, so full, nor have I ever been so high on caffeine. I couldn't sleep for forty-eight hours after leaving and my heart felt like it was going to leap out of my chest.

These days, I make my own Türk Kahve and I'm getting pretty good at it. I share it with my close, most trusted friends. I drink it alone when I want to recall those wonderful days in Türkiye, the lights of Istanbul, our long-awaited honeymoon, a waitress's laughter and bright smile, my Türk singer singing me sad songs, seafood by Kara Deniz, long dinners at Altin Kapi, cold nights in Bursa and Denizli, good friends, and tearful goodbyes.

Intellectual Property Statement: Most everything on this site is mine.  When I use someone else's stuff, I always try to give them credit.  If you decide to use anything on this website, please do the same.  Don't be an asshole.
Home About Journal Stories Photos Family People Contact