Pleasure Redefined: Two Beans and a Leaf

Pleasure Redefined: Two Beans and a Leaf

Aylin Öney Tan

One old engraving from 1685 shows three novelties that were about to change world history forever. They were two beans and one leaf: coffee, chocolate and tea. These three novel products were representing three continents newly explored by Europeans: Asia, Africa and America.

The engraving was printed in a book compiled and translated by John Chamberlayne based on a French text on tea and coffee by Phillipe Sylvestre Dufour and a Spanish text on chocolate by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma. The cover of the book read: “The Manner of Making of Coffee, Tea and Chocolate, as it is used in most parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, with their Virtues / newly done out of French and Spanish.”

The three new products were all hot beverages, alien to European countries. To add to the exotic value, the beverages were depicted as consumed by natives of the continents, of course, dressed in their traditional costumes, complete with headwear. The tea was sipped by slanted-eyed Fu Manchu, a mustached Chinese man with a conical hat; the huge hot chocolate cup was held high by a semi-naked man dressed in a feather skirt and feathered headdress. Chocolate - then perceived as a beverage- was presented by a Native American, as it was introduced to the Old World by the discovery of the Americas. Interestingly, Africa was represented by a Turk! An elderly Turkish man was sitting cross-legged at a low table, with a full mustache and a white beard, wearing a grand turban and a draped kaftan. Actually, it was an accurate choice. Coffee was introduced to the world by Ottomans albeit originating from Africa and Arabian lands, but we are aware that the distinction between the Africans, Arabs and Turks were a bit blurry in British minds, as it actually still might be…

These two beans and tealeaves have also changed Turkish conception of pleasure forever, but not at once, only gradually over time. Coffee was already a Turkish favorite as depicted in the book, but the two others have a rather recent history. It is a well-known fact that Turks found out about coffee in the mid-1500s when Yemen became a part of Ottoman territory. It arrived in Istanbul in 1554 and further spread to the rest of Europe by Ottoman traders and entrepreneurs. However, Turks became addicted to tea only centuries later, as late as the mid-1900s, after a policy of being a self-sustained country to be independent economically. Tea cultivation was promoted extensively along the Black Sea coast of Anatolia after the establishment of the Turkish Republic. Coffee was no longer grown within the country, as the boundaries of modern Turkey were dramatically shrunk over the centuries compared to Ottoman times and the country had to find a new pastime beverage. Turkish people did not give away their pleasure of sipping Turkish coffee, but they also welcomed tea drinking as their new addiction.

The tea-v.-coffee dilemma is now settled in the Turkish beverage scene: We have room for both, but of all the three novelties, chocolate could never conquer the Turkish palates in liquid form. However, the first chocolate bar was embraced lovingly once it made its appearance in the late 1800s. Already having a fondness for sweets such as the infamous lokum, aka Turkish delight, especially to go along with their coffee, the Ottomans just could not resist the chocolate fashion. Initially, chocolate appeared in tablet form in pharmacies. Ottoman customs archives reveal that some imported chocolate made its way to Istanbul as a luxury item by 1848. Within decades, local producers started to pop up, but it was after the dedicated marketing activities of Nestlé between the years 1870 and 1921 that chocolate became a taste of desire. So much so that we even switched from Turkish delight to chocolate for Ramadan holiday celebrations. In the old times, the Ramadan holiday was recognized as Şeker Bayramı, literally Sugar Holiday, referring to the copious amounts of candies and sweet delights that were consumed. The biggest gift for children was a few morsels of Turkish delight tucked in a handkerchief, preferably with a few coins as a holiday tip.

Alas, just as tea could replace the popularity of coffee, now chocolate has almost replaced Turkish delight. Lokum, with its silky, velvety texture, gliding from the mouth down the throat, takes its name from rahat-ul-hulkum, literally meaning “soothing the throat.” With its unmatched softness and mouth feel, lokum was unrivalled before the arrival of chocolate, but with its melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness and with the slightly bitter quality we like from coffee, chocolate seems to have finally conquered Turkish palates, taking its place along tea and coffee and redefining the concept of sweet pleasures!

Fork of the Week
Two days ago, the Saturday supplement of Hürriyet, the Turkish edition of this daily, published a list of 10 top boutique chocolatiers in Turkey for the occasion of Sugar Holiday, selected by the suggestions of leading food writers and experts of the country, myself being one of them. Out of 10 picks, seven of my favorites made into the list. Here was my selection:
The Chocolate Art from Ankara, Baylan, Vakko Pattiserie, Marie Antoinette Chocolatier, Butterfly Chocolate, Vanilin & Chocolate from Istanbul and Chocollart from Izmir. I had other candidates which did not appear on the list, such as Orkide from Gaziantep, Nona Brigadeiro from Ankara and Harem from Istanbul, the latter just because they started by coating lokum with quality chocolate, combining the traditional with the new. Among long-time old favorites, discovering The Chocolate Art in Ankara was new to me. I totally admired the dedication of founders, Tuna Kocabalkan and Meltem Girgin. Their passionately prepared handmade chocolates have addicts in the Ankara diplomatic circles, including the Belgium Embassy! It is a pity that their delights remain a secret reserved for Ankara residents.

Cork of the Week
When coffee was introduced to the West by the hands of Ottomans, one of the first spots in Europe outside Ottoman boundaries must have been somewhere near Grand Canal in Venice, most probably in the quay of Fondaco dei Turchi, the inn for Turkish merchants. Nowadays, Turkish coffee is reconquering Venice. Steps away from the Turks’ inn, Caffe Vergnano is a hidden cove for Turkish coffee, also serving wonderful chocolaty pleasures.