I love people. I love other cultures. I love coffee. I love people from other cultures who brew coffee. I love that cultures leave their own imprint on how their local people brew their coffee their own way; the taste of terrior, if you will. If you ask me about any of these listed things or a few key others on a given day, I’ll spout out my passion in abundance. As is the case with most baristas and other coffee industry folk in particular, we spend a lot of time pouring ourselves into other people. We educate, we teach, theorize and then put those theories into practice and create best practices. We craft people as well as beverages on both sides of the counter. Inside of almost every coffee industry person I’ve ever met is the heart of a teacher. Sure, some are better teachers and trainers than others, but on a core level, we all teach. We are constantly taking what’s inside and having it manifest itself outside in others. It is draining. Highly rewarding, especially when you see someone else progress with their own thinking or skills, but it is still draining nonetheless and yet paradoxically fulfilling at the same time. As with many things, if you take enough of any one thing out, it will eventually be empty until you refill it so that it can resume dispensing again. I would not say that I have poured out too much as of late and am personally lacking, but today, the kindness of a veritable stranger filled my internal tank beyond full and my love for people, cultures and coffee was kindled anew.
Five months ago, the possibility to make a 14 day trip to Istanbul, Turkey, Northern Iraq with a pit stop in Paris, France on the return came up. Who wouldn’t be interested in a trip like that? For quite some time I was reasonably sure I was going to be making the trip this February, but unfortunately, some scheduling conflicts came up for Crystal that made my participation impossible. I’m telling you; girls ruin everything! Once I started seriously considering the trip, of course my first thought went to finding good coffee while I was in these countries and cultures. As a side note, I really hate it when I’m traveling with someone and it’s time for dinner and they suggest Applebee’s or Chili’s or some multinational crap like that. I mean, c’mon! I want to go to where the good ol’ boys eat moose or orangutan or whatever is indigenous to that area. If the locals eat it and deem it to be their version of “down home cookin’,” then somebody get me a chair to pull up to the table because I’m in. So, coffee in Istanbul. You could punk out and go to Starbucks, or Barnie’s or Second Cup Coffee, but why? What’s local about that? You can get that anywhere, you don’t have to be in Istanbul. You should be drinking, I don’t know…maybe Turkish coffee while you’re in Turkey? Just a thought. I know it’s a big time tea town, but they have a brewing style all its own and I was going to get me some.
Once Turkish coffee popped in my head, it reminded me of a professional sore spot. I make good coffee. Really good coffee. I have like 15 different coffee brewers at home and I can rock them all…except for the Turkish Ibrik/Cezves. That one has eluded me for several years now and it ticks me off that there’s something in the coffee realm that I just can’t seem to do right. What’s worse, I’m about to start interacting with Muslims quite a bit and coffee made in this fashion has almost a comfort-food quality to it for people from that area, so to do it well would be very useful information, but skills wise, that’s just not where I’m currently at. I mean, my Turkish coffee is bad. No bueno. Ixnay on the Urkish coffeetay. So, I’m thinking to myself that not only did I need to find a place that had good Turkish coffee so that I could have some made locally and at least have a much better idea of what I was trying to produce, but MAN! I wonder if I could get someone to teach me how to do it while I was there! Who better to teach Turkish Coffee than a Turk? Right? I checked with the trip leader to see if I could get half a day or something to break away long enough to get schooled in how to do this. I can? Great! But now where to look?
Through my involvement over the years with the US Barista Competition / World Barista Championship circuit, I was aware that a few years ago, a body called World Coffee Events (WCE) had formed and knew that there were competitions other than just barista ones. I was fairly sure that Turkish coffee had its own competition and VIOLA! What do you know, it did! …searching… Surely Turkey competes in this… Yes! His name is Turgay Yildizli. And where does Mr. Yildizli happen to live…well, what do you know, he lives in Istanbul!
If you follow the World Coffee Events Calendar, in 2012, Turgay was more than just a little busy. At year’s end, he was the 1) Ibrik/Cezve, 2) Coffee in Good Spirits AND the 3) Brewer’s Cup Champion of Turkey. Hat trick! I mean, I loved competing back in the day and am pumped up about the Big Central Barista Competition coming to Kansas City here in a could of weeks, but my goodness! Does the man ever stop preparing for competitions? One is hard enough to prepare for, I can’t imagine THREE. Regardless, since I was looking for someone to teach me how to brew up a proper Cezve, I knew I had potentially found my man.
After locating him on Facebook, I sent him a message asking for some tips on how to make proper Turkish Coffee. After returning from vacation/holiday, I was astounded at his response to my request for “whatever help you might be able to offer.” In his nearly 1200-word response, there were 10 links, a video and loads of practical and helpful tips. In other words, he didn’t just give some quickie pat answer and dismiss me; he sat down, cracked a beer and wrote this complete how-to guide. It was awesome! I had a couple of quick follow up questions, but aside from that, it was a very thorough guide. How awesome. I was beyond thankful.
Over the next couple of months, I tried (unsuccessfully) to brew up more cezves of Turkish Coffee using this guide. If you’re in the industry, you know good and well how important your grinder is. Your brewing apparatus is important, of course, but if you lose the grinder battle, you’ve pretty much lost it all. Try as though I might, I just couldn’t get my coffee fine enough for the crust to form the way I knew it was supposed to. It was pretty frustrating if I do say so, so I shelved it for a while.
During our talks, Turgay had graciously offered to take to a particular store that he knew of in Istanbul where I could purchase myself a good grinder. He mentioned that if for whatever reason I didn’t make the trip, he was coming to his wife’s hometown of New Orleans for Christmas and if I liked, he could pick one up for me and send it once he was stateside. How awesome is that?!? Since he was off to compete in the Coffee in Good Spirits competition in Korea and was going to be out of contact for a while, I didn’t want to bog him down with personal requests so I didn’t take him up on his offer. Then, a couple of days before Christmas, he shoots me a quick message saying that he has something for me if I wanted to give him my address. What’s this? What could it be? I figured maybe some good coffee for making Turkish Coffee or something but really had no idea.
A few days later, my wife came home from work about three minutes after I had opened up a package that had been delivered and wondered why in the heck I was literally dancing this crazy no-rhythm white boy dance…
The note reads: “Hi Aaron, Here is a small Turkish Coffee grinder from “Sözen”, one of the oldest hand grinder company in Istanbul. I found that, this size grinder is the most precise. Also I’ve sent roasted and ground Turkish coffee from famous Turkish Coffee company. You can check the colour and grind size (but don’t drink too much:) I hope you enjoy your Turkish Coffee.
All the Best, TURGAY”
What?!? Are you kidding me? Dude had not only sent me some fresh Mehmet Efendi coffee, but he sent a Classic Sözen Coffee Hand Mill to go along with it! NO! WAY! To say that I was “excited” really doesn’t quite cover it. In gift giving, the old saying goes that it’s not the gift, but the thought that counts and that’s totally true. So true, that I was more touched at the thought and effort that I knew went in to getting this grinder to me. Remember, I don’t actually know Turgay; I’m just some dude who has been asking him 20 questions on Facebook and he drops me a Sözen hand mill in the mail? THAT is awesome.
The more I thought about it, two thoughts kept recurring in my mind: 1) Overall generosity and more specifically, the desire to see others succeed in areas that we ourselves have personal expertise is a constant theme up and down the specialty coffee industry. People are constantly sharing what they know in a collective effort to make sure that the end consumer has access to a great cup of coffee.
Similarly, look at the various World Coffee Event competitions and their sponsors. I got news for you; most of these sponsors never directly get their money back. They do indirectly get repaid in various ways (reputation building, etc.), but as far as seeing their actually sponsorship dollars being taken back to the bank? That’s just not always the case. They do it because they love our craft and we can never really thank them enough for loving us collectively enough to put their money, their products, time and talent where their mouths are and give beyond expectation. If you’re reading this and you work for or own a company that has ever sponsored a coffee competition, thank you.
2) This second thought is very timely in that I am about to judge the Big Central Barista Competition: At the end of the day, we are looking to crown a Champion with a capital C. Not just have a winner, but a Champion in the sense of someone who can have an impact around the world by being an ambassador for coffee. Ambassadors of all stripes have the ability to transcend their culture and focus on common ground while bringing the best of their own culture to a place that it previously was not. Coffee specifically has a centuries old lineage of bringing people together in various forms of community. Sure, if you make it to the upper echelons of the various coffee/WCE competitions, your coffee is going to be pretty awesome. But can you be an ambassador for our entire craft as well? That’s really what the judges are looking for.
It is no surprise then that a multiple category coffee champion would have it in their heart to send a gift like this. I know without a doubt that he is more than a champion, is in fact that ambassador of our craft and I am so glad that he will be moving permanently to New Orleans this February/March. I’m going to try to connect him with Anderson Stockdale who I know only by reputation (man, I’ve been down a long time…all these people that I only know OF instead of actually knowing!), but from what I know about Anderson, she is a community builder who can help Turgay immerse himself into the larger NOLA coffee community pretty darn quickly. What an asset to have move to your town! I guess KC can’t hog ALL the talent!
Turgay, thank you. Thank you for that grinder, I promise to learn how to use it. I won’t make it to Boston, but I’m sure I’ll actually get to meet you at an event sooner or later. Let me be the first to welcome to the USA! We’re honored to have you. As the old Turkish saying goes: A single cup of coffee can create a friendship that lasts for 40 years. I’d say that we’re off to a fantastic start! Give me a few weeks with that grinder and I’ll gladly make you that cup. Cheers!