One Coffee, Many Names

Food & Drinks

In the Balkans, the activity of coffee-drinking is an important cultural practice, dating back to the Ottoman times. It is known as bosanska kafa to Bosnians, ellinikos kafes to Greeks, srpska kafa to Serbs, makedonsko kafe to Macedonians, türk kahvesi to Turks, and kafe turke to Albanians. But during the 16th century, it was just coffee, or kahve. At the time, these peoples of southeast Europe lived in the Ottoman Empire.

The activity of coffee-drinking originated in Arabia, and it moved to Egypt then to Persia then to the Ottoman Empire in the mid-16th century. The first public coffeehouse in southeast Europe was opened in Istanbul in 1555 during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificient. The coffeehouse there was founded by two merchants from Damascus.

Eventually, coffeehouses offered more than kahve, providing squares of Turkish delight or lokum. Coffeehouses also became more numerous by the 19th century all over Southeast Europe and they began to function as community hubs.

On a typical morning in any country in the region, people young and old sit around small roundtables, leisurely sipping their cups of coffee. Coffee culture is overwhelming. All towns and cities are full of packed cafes where friends and family gather. People come and go all day long. They read the papers, meet with friends and come to discuss the latest news and politics. It is never just about the coffee.

When in Sarajevo, one thing is for certain – never call their Bosnian coffee Turkish. Both bosanska kafa and türk kahvesi start out with roasted coffee beans that are pulverized into a fine powder and cooked in a copper-plated pot called cezve in Turkish, or džezva in Bosnian. But the difference is in the process.

The Turks add the coffee to cold water before placing it on the stove. The Bosnians, however, when preparing bosanska kafa, let the cold water go on the stove alone. After boiling the water, a small amount of hot water is set aside. The coffee is then added to džezva and put back onto the stove for a few more seconds. Then the hot water that had been set aside is added.

To us, bosanska kafa tastes indistinguishable from its counterpart türk kahvesi. An easier way to tell the difference between the two may be by how each one is served.

Bosnian coffee, served with lokum.

The reasons for many names for the same coffee are clearly political because, for what concerns the coffee preparation, there are more similarities than differences.


During our stay in Istanbul, we learned that not all Turkish coffee (Türk kahvesi in Turkish) is the same. There’s Dibek coffee (Dibek kahvesi in Turkish)! We first came across Dibek coffee when we were meeting with an Istanbulite friend on a rainy day in Üsküdar.

The roasted coffee beans are crushed with special stones directly in a big wooden cup. Dibek coffee is composed of many ingredients such as salep, roasted coffee, mastic gum, cocoa, cardamom and carob. It is prepared by the grinding method in a stone mortar. The color of Dibek coffee is lighter than the traditional Turkish coffee.

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