Our tale begins with the Ottoman Empire and it’s governor of Yemen, Ozdemir Pasha. (As I’m not going to insert pictures into this blog, you’ll have to imagine the governor supporting a resplendent turban roughly the size of a weather balloon). The Governor “discover” a local drink previously smuggled into Yemen via Ethiopia. Of course we’re talking about Turkish Coffee.
The intoxicating elixir of roasted coffee, sugar and spices ground in morter and pestel and gently rendered in boiling water would be just the thing to ingratiate himself upon the one man worth impressing, the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. And so coffee became the exclusive indulgence of Ottoman Royalty along with the wealthy classes in the empire…for a brief time.
The royal family and their wealthy patrons would quickly loose their grip on coffee in converse relation to its growing popularity. Those wealthy enough to enjoy their newfound delight would employ what can best be describe as ‘baristas’, a professional class of artisans who would prepare and serve the coffee for family and guests. As you might guess, some of the coffee found it’s way into the servants’ homes where they would prepare it for their own family and guests. In short order the ‘genie was out of the bottle’…much to the irritation of privilege class.
With a few starts and stops, and by ‘starts and stops’ I mean a royal ban on coffee and coffee houses followed by the newly addicted population throwing a royal fit, Turkish coffee was here to stay! Turkish Coffee would forever stain the empire in a new caffeine culture. But far more importantly, coffee would become (and this is where Turkish coffee becomes interesting) the Dating App of its day!
There’s a lot to Turkish engagement rituals but lets get down to the relevant aspect: salt.
The prospective bride, prior to full acceptance of the groom and his family, would be required to prepare for her betrothed, a salted cup of coffee. Salt, rather than sugar is added to make the coffee difficult to drink. If the prospective bride approved of the union, the salting would be just enough to let him know what he was in for in their future life together. However, if the prospective groom was not to her liking, then the salt would be added liberally, making the drink nearly impossible to hold down.
A liberal salting would announce to the groom and his family that she did not approve of the union…or that she found the groom unappealing. Of course, there was still a way for the groom to force her hand, he could muscle down the heavily salted coffee while restraining stomach from going into ‘full reverse thrust mode’. If he could manage to get it down and keep it down then his bride’s protestations were to no avail. They would marry.
So, the manly act of not hurling salted coffee in the general direction of the bride might win her admiration or simply force her into an unwanted marriage. Fortunately however, there was a way out. If during the marriage the couple should find themselves on hard times, and if those hard times prevented the husband from supplying his wife with her usual allotment of coffee then she could legally divorce him!
So, coffee it seems was a double-edged romantic sword. And I suppose it still is. In our time how many prospective romances have won or lost over a cup of coffee? I’m not certain of this but from what I’ve hear the typical first date scenario, after the requisite winks are given on a dating app, are at cafés. Hence the vast majority of romantic failures can be witness at cafés. Occasionally love wins out and relationships are born over steaming cups of coffee. So, has romance really change all that much? In fact, if I could offer a suggestion to you women out there anticipating a first time Coffee Roasters date…feel free to bring back the old Ottoman tradition. If your gentleman arrives dishevelled or pulls up in a Hummer or asks to split the bill, politely dump some salt into his latte and get on with your life.