İzmir’s Coffee Festival pays homage to ancient port where coffee imports began
Nazlan Ertan – İZMİRGlobal coffee experts often claim that millennials are the ones pushing up the coffee consumption – that is why countries with young populations, like Turkey, show a higher rate of annual increase in coffee consumed.
A glance at the three-day festival, where İzmirian and non-İzmirian baristas, coffee equipment producers, coffee chains and degustators rub elbows, seems to confirm the belief: Apart from a few 40-year-olds clearly there to sell coffee equipment, most everyone is below 30, scrubby-faced and seem to be on their third cup of coffee – and it is only mid-morning.
The İzmirian youth in shorts and summer dresses, enjoying the Indian summer of 25 degrees, enjoy their picks among the brands that are not yet present in the coastal town, such as Ministry of Coffee or Coffee Sapiens and the local brands. In one corner, the French patisserie Leone, which the owners named after their French mother, sell croissants and tarts. Youthful voices of baristas are heard over each other, airing questions that are unintelligible to the untrained ear: “Chemex or Siphon?” “How would you like your latte art?”
The Coffee Festival İzmir, with its ambitious slogan of “The smell of coffee, the smell of the sea” is a first in this port city, where new “third-generation coffee shops” mushroom every month. With catchy names in English and Italian, often with a play of words such as Baristocrat, Awake or Coffeenary, they proudly display sophisticated equipment that seem to belong in a laboratory than in a coffee shop. Aware of the competition from international chains and from the local traditional coffeehouses, they arm themselves with a good library of magazines and books, multilingual and clean-cut baristas that inform you, with a slightly academic air about the past and future of coffee and artisanal knick-knack, such as T-shirts and notebooks with coffee slogans.
A layman may think that these shops, most of which are a facsimile of each other, have a short life span, but according to Aydoğan, the coffee market in İzmir is open and there are many who want to gain a foothold. “This festival has been successful in bringing Istanbul-based chains to İzmir and invest here,” he said.
This is confirmed by Ecehan and Nevcihan Karağaç, a brother-sister team that has created Manivela, a coffee truck that sells “quality coffee” from a ’88 model minibus. “We like the vibe in İzmir,” said Ecehan Karaağaç. “We presently have a truck in Maslak and a new one that travels around. We are considering getting a permanent stop in İzmir.”
“İzmir is the capital of coffee in Turkey,” Aydoğan said and hastened to explain when I expressed surprise at this bold statement: “Turks had to import coffee from the beginning – and it came from the port of Smyrna, ancient İzmir, after which it was distributed throughout the country. This also holds true today – most of the imported coffee enters Turkey through the port of İzmir. Also, most of the coffee-roasting equipment made in Turkey was made in İzmir.”
“The coffee culture in Turkey is much older than the tea culture,” said Aydoğan. “Remember, Turkish people used regular beans to make coffee when Murat IV forbid coffee. It is high time that coffee culture took over.”
The statement may be overly optimistic. Turkey is the fourth largest tea producer in the world and the per capita tea consumption is 7.45 kilograms; whereas the coffee consumption per capita is 0.4 kilograms, though statistics vary. The Swiss, for example, drink as much coffee as Turks drink tea – and they rank the world’s seventh. The coffee champions are the Finnish. But there is hope for Turkey yet – the annual growth rate is 15.3 percent, more than 10 times the global average. Given the disparity of figures, it may not be wise to bet in coffee’s favor. On the other hand, it may be just as stupid to dismiss it. Madame de Sevigne, one of the wittiest women in 16th-century France, said coffee and fellow writer Racine would be forgotten very quickly. Today, more people are familiar with coffee than both Racine and Madame de Sevigne.