While coffee drinking has spread around the world, each region and country has its own take on this dark, caffeinated beverage. The Italians gulp fresh espresso down at the bar, while we Americans drink cheap watery coffee by the gallon at the office. There’s also the Starbucks style to consider: drowned in cream with plenty of sugar and lots of added flavors.
Egyptian coffee is a fairly bold take on the traditional cup of joe. While it’s pretty much just coffee and sugar, the unique brewing style gives it a slightly different texture and a very enjoyable taste. It’s not the easiest or fastest way to prepare coffee, but it’s a wonderful treat that you can enjoy alone or with friends.
What Is Egyptian Coffee?
While people will certainly know what you mean when you say “Egyptian coffee,” there’s no real Egyptian style of coffee that’s exclusive to Egypt. Instead, Egyptian coffee is shared with other nearby countries. It’s often referred to as Turkish coffee in some places. Other countries (especially Eastern Europe) enjoy drinking this style of coffee, but call it by a different name entirely.
Turkish (or Egyptian) coffee is prepared by mixing sugar and very finely ground coffee with hot water. Instead of filtering the resulting beverage, it’s simply allowed to settle for a minute or two before serving. This allows the drinker to enjoy almost the full cup before he or she encounters the coffee grounds.
You can make pretty darn good Egyptian coffee with that description alone. There’s a bit more nuance to it, however, including brewing methods, when you stir it, and additional flavorings you can add to your cup. We’ll tackle all of these issues in depth.
Special Brewing Tools
Authentic Turkish coffee is made in a special pot called a “cezve.” Cezves are tall, thin saucepans that have a pretty small internal volume. Many cezves are small enough that you couldn’t reasonably brew more than one or two cups of coffee at once with them. They’ve got long handles that enable you to manipulate them on top of a hot burner and usually have a small spout to make pouring easy.
In Egypt, cezves are sometimes called kanakas instead. Cezves and kanakas are identical in both form and function.
What’s The Sand Used For?
If you were to purchase authentic Egyptian (or Turkish) coffee from a street vendor, you might see him or her brewing the coffee on a hot plate covered in sand. Turkish sand coffee is exactly the same as regular Turkish coffee. It’s just prepared with the aid of sand.
When making Turkish sand coffee, the sand sits on top of a hot plate and acts as an insulator. The barista who’s making the coffee can push the cezve down in the sand to increase the heat or let it rest higher up in the sand to apply a more gentle warmth. At home, you can achieve the same effect by simply adjusting your range.
How Do I Brew Authentic Egyptian Coffee?
If you’re in a hurry (or just lazy), simply mix several teaspoons of finely ground coffee powder with water that’s bubbling a little bit, but not boiling. Mix in at least one teaspoon of sugar, usually two, then let your coffee sit for about a minute to allow the grounds to settle. You’re all set and ready to drink it!
While this method is pretty fast, it doesn’t quite give you the same creamy texture as traditionally brewed Egyptian coffee. Here’s how to prepare your coffee in order to get the maximum amount of foam at the top.
1. Fill up your coffee cup with cold water. Transfer this water to a cezve, a small saucepan, or another container you can place on your range.
2. Add about 3 tablespoons of very finely ground coffee and 1 to 3 tablespoons of sugar. Two tablespoons is typical, while zero is hardly ever asked for. Stir this mixture thoroughly and then set your spoon aside. In order to preserve the foam, you won’t ever stir your coffee again.
3. Place your cezve (or saucepan or another container) on the range on fairly low heat. You can bring the heat up as you get more experienced with this process. You’re going to bring your coffee just to the brink of boiling three times. The lower your heat is, the easier it will be to pull it off of the burner at just the right stage.
4. Wait until your coffee begins to simmer and bubble. When the bubbles start to rise rapidly, immediately pull your cezve off of the heat and pour about a third of it into your coffee cup. Return it to your stove until bubbles form again and start to rise. Again, immediately pull the cezve off of your stove and pour out most of the remaining coffee into your cup. Return the cezve to the heat a third time, wait for the bubbles to rise once more, and then pour out the rest of the coffee into your cup.
5. You should have a cup of delicious smelling coffee that’s got a nice thin layer of foamy bubbles on top. Do NOT stir this. Instead, give it at least thirty seconds to settle so you don’t wind up drinking coffee grounds.
6. After a minute or so, your Egyptian coffee is ready to drink!
Additions To Egyptian Coffee
Some Turkish coffee is enjoyed with a small amount of cardamom. This can either come mixed in with the finely ground coffee or added afterward. If you enjoy the taste of cardamom, simply add one smashed cardamom pod to your coffee with the sugar and coffee grounds. You’ll get a bit of authentic natural flavor that will make your Egyptian coffee even more unique.
What Type Of Beans Work Best For Turkish Coffee?
The most important thing about the coffee you use for your Egyptian (or Turkish) coffee is the grind. You want a very, very fine grind in order to dissolve as much of the coffee as possible into your drink. If you use a coarse grind you’ll feel like you’re drinking sand, even if you let the coffee settle for a long time.
As far as roast goes, it’s usually a good idea to go with a medium roast or lighter. The Turkish style of coffee preparation uses lower temperature water and longer extraction times, so you’ll get more natural coffee flavors out of a lighter roast. A darker roast won’t have quite the same subtle, complex flavors.
Other than that, feel free to experiment! Coffee isn’t native to Egypt, so it’s imported from all over the world. This means that no matter what coffee you choose to use, it’s probably been used to make a cup of coffee in Egypt at least once.
Why Does Egyptian Coffee Taste Different?
If you’re familiar with coffee already, you probably know the answer to this one. Coffee brewing is the art of extracting flavors from coffee beans using hot water (well, usually hot, anyway). There’s a lot of research that’s been done into this process. One of the things that we’ve learned is that different flavors come out at different water temperatures, and different flavors are extracted from the beans at different rates.
This means that you can get a pretty different cup of coffee by using very hot, actually boiling (212 F) water instead of using simmering, but not boiling (170 F) water to brew your coffee. Similarly, even if you keep water temperature constant, you’ll get different tastes based on how long the coffee remains in contact with the water.
If you have a french press at home, I strongly suggest that you spend some time experimenting with these concepts. In general, bitter flavors are more pronounced at high temperatures and high extraction times. You can often get the best cup of coffee by avoiding one of these factors while using the other one to draw out as much flavor as possible. In other words, you’ll usually want to go with a lower temperature and a longer extraction or a high temperature and a very short extraction.
Turkish coffee utilizes the first method. You’re never quite boiling the water, only simmering it until it foams up. This means that you’re essentially brewing french-press coffee with 180-190 F water and a long extraction time. By allowing the coffee to just barely peek above those temperatures occasionally, you let a nice layer of foamy bubbles form that add to the texture.
The sugar also has quite a bit to do with the taste. You can enjoy an unsweetened cup of Egyptian coffee if you like, but it’s not going to taste that different from regular coffee.
Can I Add Milk To My Egyptian Coffee?
Turkish coffee isn’t generally prepared or served with milk or cream. That said, if you enjoy the taste of Egyptian coffee with milk, go right ahead and drink it that way! Your coffee should be prepared for your own enjoyment, not for adhesion to some foreign standard.
Do I Need A Stove To Make Egyptian Coffee?
These days, I make my coffee with water heated in an electric kettle or a microwave. Many of my friends use their coffeemakers instead. None of us use our stoves to heat water. Does this mean we can’t enjoy an authentic cup of Egyptian coffee?
While it’s pretty hard to get foam without a stove, you can still get that perfect Turkish coffee taste without using a stove or a cezve. The trick is to make sure that your water is at the right temperature. I’d suggest boiling it in the microwave and then waiting about thirty seconds before stirring in your coffee grounds and sugar. If you’re using a coffeemaker, simply make a cup of hot water and mix in your sugar and coffee when the water is at between 170 and 180 F.
The temperature of different coffeemakers varies a bit, but there’s a decent chance water comes out of the machine at a temperature that’s pretty close to what you want. The temperature range you’re looking for is marked by smallish bubbles at the bottom of your cup. No bubbles means the water is probably too cold, while big bubbles or a lot of boiling action at the top means the water is too hot.
In any case, simply mix your water with the rest of your ingredients and let the coffee settle for a bit before you drink it. If it’s too bitter, use water that’s a few degrees colder next time. If it’s not strong enough, consider adding more coffee or experiment with raising the heat slightly. If you find yourself drinking coffee grounds, use a finer grind and let your coffee settle for a bit longer.
Unfortunately, there’s no reliable way to get the nice foamy surface you see in authentic Turkish coffee when you heat the water separately. That’s a small price to pay for the convenience of making Turkish-style coffee with the office Kreuig, however.*
* Note: you can’t make Egyptian coffee with a K-Cup no matter how hard you try. You can, however, use a Kreuig to heat water and then use that water to make Egyptian coffee as described above.
Egyptian Coffee: A Unique, Delicious Coffee Tradition
Egyptian style coffee is one of my favorite ways to enjoy a cup of coffee. While I love sipping on this dark, foamy beverage, I’m also careful to not make it too often. Part of what makes me enjoy it so much is how special and different it is when compared to the coffee I drink normally.
If I had Turkish-style coffee all the time, it would lose some of this special charm.
Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.