Travel: Exploring the Istanbul Coffee Scene

Friday, 11 August, 2023

Words by Katie Burnett

Coffee has very deep roots in Turkey. From having their own brewing method, to one of the richest and oldest coffee histories in the world. This country is split between West Asia and Southeast Europe, with Istanbul being the only capital city in the world that is transcontinental. The first coffeehouse in Istanbul was opened in 1555 and by the end of the 1500s, coffee ran through the veins of the small country. 

This makes Turkey one of the earliest adopters of what we now call “coffee culture”. It’s no surprise that Istanbul has become a coffee destination around the world. Turkish coffee is finely ground coffee (unfiltered) and water brought to a boil in a “cezve” in Turkey, and often called “ibrik” elsewhere, and served with the grounds settling at the bottom of your cup. A very close friend once said, “if there’s anything to know about Turkish coffee, it’s to not take the last sip”. He has been to Istanbul many times and began his specialty coffee career after sipping a well-brewed Turkish coffee.

I stepped off the plane at Istanbul International Airport without a clue of this history. I had been to Istanbul once before – I had 4 days to explore the magnificent city and cram in as many coffee shop experiences as possible. This time, I was accompanied by two very special people and we only had 24 hours before we jetted off to our next destination.

Turkish Airlines have made it extremely easy for travellers laying-over in Istanbul to extend their time in Turkey in order to promote tourism in Istanbul. If you’re looking to travel to Europe from South Africa anytime soon – it is worth looking into what the airline has to offer in terms of free accommodation for travelers looking to spend an extra few hours in the city. The flight from Johannesburg consistently leave at around 7:30pm, so you will arrive in Istanbul at 5am/6am. 

We had a list of specialty coffee spots we wanted to hit before our flight out at 7am the next day. This is a two-time visitor to Istanbul’s guide to the specialty coffee scene in Istanbul. 

We got in an Uber from the airport and went straight to Petra Coffee Co. A quick scroll through Petra’s Instagram and you’ll realise that these guys are doing something special.

From the bakery and kitchen they have attached to their café and the consistent offering of coffees from some of the world’s most prolific coffee producers, this spot is any coffee nerd’s dream. Petra has an ever-changing food menu, so it’s tough to recommend anything specific – but some of my consistent favourites are the Turkish eggs and their pastries are some of the best you’ll find in Istanbul. A good note is that they only open their kitchen at 9am but are open for coffee and pastries from 8am. This is a good place to start as it is a bit removed from the other shops and once you get into the Galata area it’s nice to walk from one shop to the other.

On our way to the old city, we stopped at Kronotrop Karaköy. This might have been the most scenic café we went to. This café is draped in vines with massive opaque-green leaves that form a ceiling over the street.

I was there in mid-July, when the leaves were at their fullest, but I have also been there in March, when the leaves had all fallen and it didn’t quite have the same effect. Irrelevant of whether you see the beautiful canopy of leaves or not, this café is one you need to visit. It is nestled between some ancient buildings bursting with quaint restaurants and antique shops. 

After Kronotrop, we headed up the hill into the old city where our AirBnB for the night was. I would recommend booking an AirBnB near the Galata Tower. This is close to Ìtiklal Caddesi, which is the main shopping/tourist avenue in Istanbul. After dropping our bags, we headed out with our hiking hats on and ready to drink some coffee. We walked to Brew Lab first. This coffee shop is extremely cosy and has a bit more of a local feel. They serve and sell coffee from Petra Roasting Co., and have their main blend Acme, as their espresso coffee.

Next up, exploring Ìstiklal Caddesi. This street is vibrant, full of shops and restaurants, and always busy. Speak to anyone who’s been to Istanbul, and they’ll tell you that the most exceptional thing about Ìstiklal Caddesi is how it is busier at 3am than it is at 7pm. The crowned jewel though, has got to be the Espresso Lab perched on the corner of one of the bends in the street. This café is the biggest café in Istanbul, at three stories high – it boasts some of the biggest turnover of coffee in the country.

You can choose between the ground floor – which has the bar and retail shelves - the two terraces on the ground floor level (at the front and back of the building), the upstairs work area with wrap around bench seating, or occasionally the upstairs terrace. Talking to Renato Correia, a Cape Town resident and one of the master mind’s behind Espresso Lab, it’s evident that the Istanbul shop is the centre piece of the Espresso Lab crown. This building was previously a Starbucks, until Espresso Lab moved in and opened its doors in 2019. This café pumps from 7am to 2am and is staffed with highly skilled, friendly and helpful baristas. From morning to, well, morning, it is filled with the trendy tourists, Istanbul-based students and workers and the most hipster of the hipsters. We sat upstairs, sipping from large mugs of filter coffee looking over the street as the sun began to set.

Around 9pm, we headed down the street to find dinner and get an early night before our early start for the airport the next morning.

These are 4 must-see specialty coffee shops in Istanbul, have fun!

Petra Roasting Co. : Gayrettepe, Hossohbet Sokagi Selenium Residence Magaza 1, 34349 Besiktas/Istanbul, Türkiye

Kronotrop Karaköy: Kemankes Karamustafa Pasa, Karaali Kaptan Sk. No:4 Karaköy, 34425 Beyoglu/Istanbul, Türkiye

Brew Lab : Kuloglu, Yeni Çarsi Cd. No:5 D:B, 34425 Beyoglu/Istanbul, Türkiye

Espresso Lab : Katip Çelebi Mah, Istiklal Cd. No:15, 34433 Beyoglu/Istanbul, Türkiye

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