Updated: Sep 19, 2019
History of Lebanese & Turkish Coffee
Traditionally called Ahweh or Kahva – is derived from Turkish Coffee, which is said to have been invented around the year 1540 when a Turkish Governor of Yemen introduced coffee to the then-Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman. Sultan Suleiman decided to grind the coffee beans with a mortar, turning them to a fine dust before they could be brewed in an Ibrik—a kind of small metal pot with a long handle that is still used for coffee today.
And thus Lebanese Coffee – is served without filtering the finely ground coffee beans out of the water, which creates a strong, espresso-like coffee. Unlike an espresso, any sugar is added to Turkish Coffee during the brewing process, it is served with naturally occurring foam on top, and instead of consuming it like a shot you’re meant to drink it slowly. This results in a coffee that is usually more full-bodied and sweeter than what one would find in America.
Modern day Lebanese Coffee brands include Café Najjar, Maatouk, and Café Super Brasil. These brands create their products from Brazilian Arabica coffee beans, though one can find Robusta bean blends as well.
Founded: 1957 by Michel Najjar
Michel Najjar founded his coffee roastery in Beirut, way back in 1957. Since then the business has been passed down to Najjar’s grandson and it has made its way into 48 countries and counting! Their business currently holds the distinction of owning the largest coffee factory in Lebanon.
Café Najjar’s staple product is their Classic Turkish-Style Ground Coffee, which can be found in 16 ounce bags for $12.05. I enjoy the dark roast flavor of their Classic blend and it comes ground so finely that you can make your coffee straight away! Najjar’s Classic blend is on the sweet side, which has caused a split in opinions between those who like their black coffee bitter and those who want something sweeter without the need to add sugar. Some customers have complained that Najjar’s products develop a strange, stale taste if they are left to sit in the bag for too long, so be sure to pick up a fresh batch that you intend to use in the short term!
A variation on Najjar’s Classic blend is their Café Najjar Classic with Cardamom Turkish-Style Ground Coffee. As the name implies, this is their classic blend with added cardamom. The bags are still 16 ounces, but they tend to go for the slightly higher price of $13.60. The cardamom helps to take the jittery, caffeine edge off of the strong Turkish blend. The same issues with freshness apply to this variation, but the real determining factor for your enjoyment will be how much you enjoy cardamom!
Founded: 1960 by Mahmoud Maatouk Bchamoun, Lebanon
The original Maatouk café and roastery was opened by Mahmoud Maatouk in downtown Beirut during 1960. Their business survived the Lebanese civil war and several relocations, leading them to the UK and Germany, all before they found their way back to Lebanon in the 90s. Now Maatouk operates a state-of-the-art coffee production factory located in the Bchamoun Industrial Area.
Maatouk Original Gourmet Blend Lebanese Coffee is sold in 7 ounce bags for $10.99. Their coffee is pre-ground to a fine dust for your convenience. I’ve found Maatouk to be a darker, smoother coffee than most Lebanese brands, but some might find it too bitter for their liking.
Additionally, Maatouk Lebanese Coffee with Cardamom is available. The cardamom variation comes in 7 ounce bags as well, which can currently be picked up for $10.76. If Maatouk’s Original Blend is too strong for you then you may wish to try this variation for a silkier, easier Turkish Coffee.
For further information, you may download their product guides here:
Café Super Brasil
Café Super Brasil was established in Lebanon in 1970. Today they are one of Lebanon’s top coffee companies. They offer coffees in various styles, both as fresh ground beans and instant mixes.
I can’t help but be impressed by the wide range of Turkish Coffees that Café Super Brasil has on offer, but their Café Super Brasil Regular blend is still the most popular. Typical 180 gram (roughly 6.3 ounces) bags go for about $3.50 each if purchased in a multi-pack, though prices vary by retailer and quantity. So far as I can tell, Café Super Brasil does not offer individual sales through their website.
How to Make Traditional Lebanese / Turkish Coffee
Preparing Turkish Coffee is easy and quick! Here’s a simple recipe for two cups of Turkish Coffee.
Grind your coffee into a fine dust if it doesn’t come pre-ground.
Bring one cup of water to boil in an ibrik or a small sauce pan.
Remove the water from your heating element, add a tablespoon of your coffee dust to the water, and mix in any sugar or cardamom you’re using as well.
Place the pot back onto the heating source, allowing it to boil until foam forms before removing it again.
Repeat the previous step once more to ensure that the foam is brought out to its fullest.
Pour your coffee into small cups.
If you’re like me and you prefer your coffee stronger, experiment with adding in some extra grounds! The bitter taste can be balanced out to your liking by altering the quantities of sugar or cardamom you’re using. Of course, if you’re drinking your coffee alone you can always use half the ingredients to yield a single serving, but like many popular Lebanese dishes it is best enjoyed with a friend!
Are there Electric Turkish Coffee Makers?
There certainly are! Cafe Najjar makes their own version called the Najjar Raqwa. I have seen them at local Middle Eastern markets but they require their own branded pods (similar to Keurig pods) which might be costly.
I also fond this electric Turkish coffee maker that uses any finely ground coffee beans that you choose such as those listed above. It's by the brand Arzum Okka and is highly rated. What is nice about this unit is that it has a self cleaning feature built-in. Many customers that have purchased this have said that it creates a lovely foam on top!
How to Serve Lebanese / Turkish Coffee (Turkish Coffee Traditions)
If you’re trying to have a traditional cup of Turkish Coffee with readily available utensils, I would recommend an espresso cup, as it is comparable in size and shape to the cups used in Lebanon. You should serve the coffee to your guests with the foam intact and without any creamer. Once you have finished your drinks, you can use the remaining grounds to participate in a time honored tradition: fortune telling by coffee grounds! Simply place a saucer or plate over the cup, rotate the cup, make a wish, and turn it upside down to cool. The interpretation of the image formed is then up to whoever is dining with you, as one typically does not read their own.
While Najjar, Maatouk, and Café Super Brasil all offer similar products, their flavor profiles are far from identical. I think Najjar’s products hold the distinction of being the sweetest, while Maatouk offers consumers a richer taste that has a more bitter finish. Café Super Brasil has the market cornered on variety, but their Regular blend does not stand out from the pack as much as I would like.