Turkish Coffee vs Espresso - What Is The Difference?

On my first trip to Istanbul, I remember a waiter asking me if I wanted sugar in my Turkish coffee. Imagine my surprise when he brought a sugar bowl along with a tiny pre-sweetened cuppa. It took a few more cups and the better part of the vacation for me to understand the question and come to terms with the fact that Turkish coffee was not, in fact, an espresso. Let me share my insight into the major differences with you. We'll talk about the grind settings, kitchen gear, flavor, and caffeine in Turkish coffee vs espresso.

How Turkish Coffee is Made

To make a delicious cuppa of Turkish coffee:

  1. Start by pouring cold water into a pot, put it on the stove, and add coffee grounds and sugar without mixing them in.
  2. Once the sugar starts dissolving and coffee sinks down, stir the mix and let it heat up until you see the water bubbling.
  3. Let the foam rise and remove the pot from the stove. You can repeat this process a couple of times to let the foam bubble two or three times before you pour coffee into a cup.

Brewing a Turkish coffee is a hands-on process that requires your full attention and fast reflexes. Coffee can bubble over the top of the pot and spill all over the kitchen in a blink of an eye, so you're better off using low to medium heat to avoid messy accidents.

Gear for Turkish Coffee

If you're a stickler for tradition, you'll need a cezve or ibrik - a smallish pot with a wide bottom and tiny opening on top. There are plenty of options online, including those made of stainless steel and copper or decorated with intricate etchings. However, your average small kitchen pot will do just as well, though we recommend you opt for a pot with one long handle for easy pouring. You'll also need a heat source compatible with your coffee pot, be it a gas stovetop or an induction panel.

True Turkish coffee enthusiasts should consider investing in a heated sand bed. The thick layer of sand prevents the grounds from scorching at the bottom of the cezve and ensures even heat distribution through the bottom and the walls of the pot. Besides, if the coffee runs over, it ends up in the sand that's easy to clean up, unlike a stovetop.

How Espresso is Made

If you're a gearhead or just a fan of fancy kitchen appliances, in a battle of espresso vs Turkish coffee, the former will be your favorite. Simply put, there's no way to make an espresso without an espresso machine, as the name applies to a brewing method that calls for hot water to be pushed through the bean puck at high pressure (9 to 20 bars). While some alternatives produce espresso-like drinks (Aeropress and Moka pot), you'll need to invest in a manual, semi-automatic, or automatic espresso maker to pull shots.

The portafilter is the heart of an espresso maker, as it holds the finely ground beans tamped down for even density and thickness. The boiler heats water to just under boiling temperature (around 198 F), and the pump generates pressure to push the water through the puck. Automatic machines take care of brewing without any intervention needed. Still, if you love the ritualistic nature of pulling a shot, a manual lever machine will let you have complete control over the flavor.

Espresso machines are advanced appliances that require thorough maintenance and correct usage if you want them to last long. This means using filtered water, careful cleaning, and regular descaling.

Turkish Coffee vs Espresso: Caffeine

As we've established, neither of these are the type of bean or roasting. However, they decide the strengths of the brew. For one, espresso traditionally relies on blends that hold up to 20% of Robusta beans that include twice as much caffeine as 100% Arabica blends used for Turkish coffee.

Does it make espresso stronger? Not necessarily, as darker roasting favored by espresso lovers reduces caffeine content, while light to medium roasting used for Turkish coffee retains more of the energizing chemical. Besides, Turkish coffee is unfiltered, so you get miniscule particles of the beans with every sip, increasing caffeine consumption. All things considered, you're likely to get equal amounts of caffeine from espresso and Turkish coffee, though the latter usually tastes more intense.

If we compare decaf espresso vs Turkish coffee, the final caffeine content will depend on the decaffeination process used for the beans of your choice. The Swiss water method is considered the best, and it leaves less than 1% of the initial caffeine content without altering the flavor of the beans too much.

Turkish Coffee vs Espresso: Brewing Time

Despite its ritualistic nature, Turkish coffee doesn't take too much time to brew. After the first couple of tries, you should be able to get a cuppa ready in under five minutes. Besides, you can prep two or more servings at a time in the same pot. Just make sure you pour equal amounts of the delicious foam into every cup before dividing the brew.

Espresso machines were ultimately invented to speed up the coffee brewing process when the demand for brain juice overpowered cafe capabilities. An experienced barista can get your shot ready in under a minute, as the brewing itself only takes 20 to 30 seconds. Consumer super-automatic espresso machines are equally fast. However, they can produce one or two shots at a time. So if you're entertaining guests, setting them with espressos may take more time than brewing a pot of Turkish coffee.

On the flip side, automatic espresso makers require next to no supervision and can be programmed to get a cuppa ready for you by the time you wake up in the morning. And when brewing Turkish coffee, you have to keep a close eye on the pot at all times, or you risk coffee overflowing and messing up your stovetop and kitchen counters.

Turkish Coffee Vs Espresso: Grind

If you've ever researched pulling espresso shots, you know that the grind setting is among the major success factors. Getting it right means the water will pass through the beans in 20 to 30 seconds, extracting the perfect flavor, aroma, and strength without making the brew too bitter or sour. Most respectable roasters offer espresso grind, and many grocery store grinders have this setting down pat.

If you're a purist and want to enjoy freshly ground beans, you'll need a burr grinder, as blade models cannot achieve the right fineness. Look for a fine setting that produces powdery particles smaller than sugar and larger than flour.

For a Turkish coffee, you'll need an even finer grind. It's much less common, so you may have to invest in a burr grinder after all. Look for an 'extra fine' setting that produces a powder similar to flour.

Remember that Turkish coffee is unfiltered, so coarse grounds will feel awful in your mouth if you don't wait long enough for them to settle at the bottom of the cup. Besides, this brewing method only relies on boiling the beans for a few minutes, so you need an extra fine powder to achieve full extraction and rich flavor in a short time.

Turkish Coffee Vs Espresso: Flavor & Aroma

The difference in brewing methods translates into two distinct flavor and aroma profiles that make it impossible to confuse espresso for Turkish coffee and vice versa. The former gains its syrupy, thick, and intense palette thanks to high pressure and the right bean-to-water ratio. When done right, espresso is rich and flavorful with no sour or bitter undertones that usually come from under- or over-extraction.

Espresso is the best way to enjoy coffee in its pure form, breathe in the dizzying aroma, and puzzle out the subtle nuances of exotic beans. Thanks to its pure coffee flavor, espresso is ideal for building complex drinks, like macchiato or latte.

Fun fact: Italians suggest you drink your espresso shot in three sips, pausing in between to appreciate the flavor. This way, you can enjoy the evolution of the palette as the drink cools down and new nuances develop in the cup.

Turkish coffee is equally thick and rich but in an altogether different way. The thickness comes from using the extra-fine grounds that remain in the cup and produce a hint of muddiness that will have you smacking your lips as you enjoy the drink. However, it's the addition of sugar into the coffee pot before brewing that produces a distinctly sweet, caramelized flavor that sets Turkish coffee apart.

Besides, Turkish coffee is rarely served as it is. Adding spices, like cardamom, cinnamon, or cloves, takes the experience to another level, though coffee purists might consider it a waste of good beans. Either way, Turkish coffee is served black with a small glass of water to cleanse your palate in between sips. You should also let the freshly brewed cuppa rest for a couple of minutes to let the fine grounds settle at the bottom.

Fun fact: Greek coffee is the same as Turkish coffee, so you can enjoy it in any Greek restaurant. The name was adopted in the second half of the 20th century after the Turks and the Greeks' conflicts turned heated.

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Renat Mamatazin

Renat Mamatkazin

2021/04/15

Founder and owner of Lion Coffee and 3ChampsRoastery, 1st place winner of Ukrainian Barista Championship 2017. Interested in travelling, football and Formula-1 (besides coffee, of course).

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