The Best Turkish Coffee in Istanbul

mandabatmaz-turkish-coffee-istanbul-005

Don’t you love these superlative claims? I’ve made them myself before and in publications I try to push editors to use Five Great (or Good) Places to Dine on Bugs or whatever, rather than the Five Best Ever Flavors of Doritos. But a number of websites all make the claim (or borrow it from each other?) that the best Turkish coffee in Istanbul, nay, the world, is at Mandabatmaz. Well 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong and neither can the tidal wave of bloggers, I suppose. But I had to know for myself.

mandabatmaz-turkish-coffee-istanbul

We ventured into Istiklal Cadessi to see what the coffee buzz was all about.

Down Olivia Gecidi, a narrow walking alley off the pedestrian mall of Istiklal, is a little coffee shop with barely room for half a dozen people to sit inside, and as many short stools and tables out on the walk.

mandabatmaz-turkish-coffee-istanbul-004

This is where Cemil Filik has been making Turkish coffee for over 47 years. He learned from his older brother, and when his brother left, he took over. Mandabatmaz has always been in this location but back in the day the neighbors were Greeks and Armenians, he told me. Right across the alley were some Italians. It’s true the whole Beyoğlu area was predominantly where the non-Turks and many Western Europeans used to reside. Back then Beyoğlu was known as Pera, a name still held by a few hotels, restaurants, and the district’s museum.

mandabatmaz-turkish-coffee-istanbul-001

Much has been written and argued about Turkish coffee, regarding both its method of preparation and its origins. But what I saw Mr. Filik do was outside all the common wisdom. I have always been told that the process should start with cold water and requires a long slow heating period that ends with the foam rising before removing the little copper cezve from the heat. Some say you repeat this once or twice. Well there was none of that at Mandabatmaz. Filik is making this stuff all day. He couldn’t say how many cups he makes in a day, but he went through at least 3 kilos of coffee, three tiny spoonfuls at a time.

mandabatmaz-turkish-coffee-istanbul-003

I watched him make several cups. He starts with tiny tea spoons of sugar — depending on the order: sade (plain), orta (medium), or sekerli (sweet) — then throws in three heaping spoonfuls of the finely ground coffee. Then he adds — hold on to your seats here — hot water. He stirs this all together very carefully. Then he holds the cezve in a powerful blue flame until the foam rises. Then he pours it swiftly into the serving cup he just warmed with some more hot water, and then takes care to put in the last thicker portion carefully suspended on top without too much foam or crema. I was shocked and thought, A-ha! Not worth the hype!

mandabatmaz-turkish-coffee-istanbul-002

Until I tasted it. Is it the best? I can’t say, not having tasted every cup of Turkish coffee in a city of well over 13 million at modest estimates. But it is noticeably different and tastier than much of what I’ve ever had. Could everyone else be wrong about the brewing technique? I can’t imagine the busy restaurants are making Turkish coffee with a time-consuming, intensive method either.

“Manda batmaz” literally means “the buffalo doesn’t sink.” I tried to ask him why he named the place this and I don’t think the question translated. It’s just the name he chose and that’s that. He showed me a certificate of trademark on the wall.

**As commenter Connor noted below, the idea of this Turkish expression about an unsinking buffalo is that the foam on top of a good cup of Turkish coffee is so thick that even a buffalo would float.

Is it worth it? Surely. Especially as it is near such a popular promenade in Istanbul and offers a brief respite from the crowd.

Mandabatmaz (map)
Olivia Gecidi, Beyoğlu, Istanbul, Turkey
Open 10am-midnight
They also serve Turkish tea!

8 thoughts on “The Best Turkish Coffee in Istanbul

  • August 24, 2013 at 9:01 am
    Permalink

    Great story, Kevin. You should check out some of the other coffeehouses around town as well, like Fazil Bey in Kadikoy.

    The name “Mandabatmaz” actually means “buffalo doesn’t sink”, and it’s a reference to the foam found in Turkish Coffee, i.e., “foam so thick a buffalo wouldn’t sink”.

    This is actually a common way of (nick)naming things in Turkey. For example, asparagus in Turkish is “kuskonmaz”, which literally means, “bird doesn’t land”, which is a reference to the stalks of the asparagus plant, which are so dainty and frail that even a bird cannot land on them.

    Another example is a roly-poly toy, which is sometimes called Haciyatmaz in Turkish, meaning “the Hadjji doesn’t lie down”. That one’s pretty self-explanatory.

    Similarly, back in the day when both national highways and cars were relatively new and iffy, there used to be a stretch of badly-paved highway between Istanbul and Ankara that was on a steep incline that would cause cars to come to a stop midway, and cause them to get stuck. The road was also full of unforgiving sharp turns that caused several accidents over the years. Things were especially worse in the winter months, when there was little traction on the icy roads. This stretch of road was thus nicknamed “kargasekmez”, which literally means, “the crow doesn’t skip”, i.e., “a road so steep/curvy/icy, even a crow couldn’t skip up it”.

    Reply
    • August 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm
      Permalink

      Thanks for that correction, Connor! I had asked my well-meaning Turkish host the translation and her unhesitating response kept me from actually checking a dictionary for the verb batmak. Rookie mistake! 🙂 I find Turkish rather charming for all sorts of reasons, and your comments here only add to that sentiment. Thanks! Funny thing is just yesterday I thought to post an old article I wrote about Turkish for a language magazine. Perhaps I need to run it by you when I do. By the way, we did visit Fazil Bey but I haven’t gotten to post it. Plus Erol Tas and a great indie coffee place just off Istiklal, doing its own roasting of coffees from all over the world. Great trip and looking forward to going back again next spring.

      Reply
      • August 24, 2013 at 4:29 pm
        Permalink

        Thanks for the reply, Kevin. I do love languages and find that Turkish does indeed have some truly charming qualities. I would love to read your article when you get around to having it published. Perhaps while enjoying a cup or two at one of the many great small coffee establishments around Istanbul.

        Reply
  • Pingback: Do You Have $20 In Your Pocket? Awesome, We Are Taking You To Istanbul! - eTramping.com

  • Pingback: Traveling Madly in 2013: My Year in Review

  • April 24, 2014 at 7:01 am
    Permalink

    When I am next in that area, I will try and let you know. Although, I can only drink Turkish coffee in the late afternoon! It is very strong, even for me!

    Reply
  • Pingback: A Day Lost in Istanbul

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *