Two young men stood about 15 feet apart on a sunny narrow street in the Kadıköy market, chafing in their brown lab coats. The one tending to a handful of white marble tables barked “buyrun!” (roughly, “come and get it!”) at passersby; the other quietly wiped down seven or eight black marble tables.
The black tables – the ones in front of the veteran Fazıl Bey Kahvesi – used to be white until they were replaced when a gaggle of upstart neighboring cafes put out their own white tables, presumably hoping to siphon off some of Fazıl Bey’s business. Next door is Yavuz Bey and next to that Hürrem Efendi and just across the street Niyazi Bey, all serving Turkish coffee and seating customers at the same white marble tables. Buyrun!
In Istanbul, fads burn white hot and competition can be comically ruthless. Be it coffee or mojitos, you’ll see butcher shops, bookstores and pharmacies retrofitted overnight to capitalize on the latest popular trend. We even know one (now former) barber, Süleyman, who recently hung up his shears, donned a fez and turned his barbershop into place to squeeze and sell fruit juice.
We’re all for free enterprise and open competition, but the mushrooming of cafes on Fazıl Bey’s street sets up a dangerous trap that many of us could fall into. Turkish coffee is Turkish coffee and the tables are all natural stone anyway, a visitor to this stretch of Kadıköy might think, so what could be the big difference?
There’s only one way to find out. Patiently wait for one of those black-topped tables to open and order yourself an orta şekerli (medium sweet) and you will experience what it means to sip a truly superior coffee. At Fazıl Bey, they roast their own Brazilian beans to a preferred (dark) color on the premises and grind them throughout the day into a fine powder, as Turkish coffee requires. Before even taking down the copper cezve to make a cup of coffee, Fazıl Bey already has a leg up on most of the competition, who buy their coffee pre-ground from distributors.
Freshness is a big factor but the in-house roasting is a tradition that goes back to the shop’s foundation in the 1920’s. According to Murat Çelik, Fazıl Bey’s roaster of 30 years, respect for this shop’s tradition is an important ingredient in a good cup. “Around here, you’ve got taxi drivers and kokoreç vendors who quit that job and start making coffee,” he scoffed. “This is our grandfather’s profession.”
At Fazıl Bey we do believe the coffee is superior, but it’s the ritualistic experience here that we really enjoy. The tiny shop itself is like a sanctuary, with every nook and cranny filled with something precious and coffee-related. The intoxicating smell of fresh ground coffee wafts around the room like incense. Every detail of the service – the small metal service trays, the porcelain coffee cups with the Fazıl Bey logo, small glasses of water and the square of lokum served alongside – adds up to one powerful cup of coffee. Sipping a coffee here, you can feel their respect for the coffee-making tradition and the generations that upheld it in this shop. That’s something that can’t be imitated with furniture.
Address: Serasker Caddesi 1A, Kadıköy
(photo by Ansel Mullins)