Adventures with Turkish Coffee

Dang it, today is the deadline for the Southshire writing group’s call for stories. I’m currently working on a short story about food and need to send it out today!!!

I chose Turkish Coffee as my topic. Here’s a snippet from the story that begins in the photo shop of my friend Reuben:

After picking up my prints, I sat in a chair with my back to the door. Reuben leaned over the counter and we began to chat. We had just begun to discuss prayer when an Arab boy, not more than 10 years old, popped his head into the door. Speaking what I assumed to be Arabic, he asked Reuben a question. Reuben give a quick answer and the boy ran off. Acknowledging my puzzled look, Reuben said, “I just ordered Turkish coffee for both of us.”

As a coffee addict with a dry mouth from my pita breakfast, this sounded like a fantastic idea. We continued to talk, but few details stand out in my mind beyond my eager anticipation of this unique drink. I’m sure I continued to explain my understanding of prayer, God’s love for his creation, and the role of the Holy Spirit, but that’s enveloped in a haze in my memory. The steaming shot-glass-sized mug of Turkish coffee was soon in my grasp.

When the boy delivered the much anticipated coffees, I noticed right away that the quantity of liquid was perhaps an eighth of what a typical American drinks in the morning. It was also darker than anything I’ve ever picked up at a convenience store. Sipping at the dark, dark liquid, I quickly noted that Turkish coffee is eight times stronger than its American cousin. Forcing myself to gulp it down, my heart seemed to accelerate in anticipation of the vast amounts of caffeine instantly injected into my body. The flavor was far more bitter than anything I’ve ever extracted from a coffee bean, even when I’ve accidentally doubled the amount of grounds in my morning cup.

Despite my initial shock, I eventually warmed up to my new, exotic, Middle Eastern drink. I styled myself an accomplished connoisseur of all things foreign. The bitter flavor emanated its own charm and even had a certain sweetness about it. Then I gulped down the dregs of my mug and almost gagged. My throat was assaulted by a host of hot, bitter grounds hidden below the coffee.

I tried to summon saliva into my suffering mouth, vainly hoping to rescue my throat that was coated in the bitter grounds. By sheer will-power I forced myself to continue the conversation and attempted to carry on as if all was going well. Mercifully, I soon left Reuben’s shop at the conclusion of our pleasant chat and hustled to a vendor selling mango juice. After committing my rookie error with Turkish coffee, I was convinced that mango juice was the only way I could make things right.

Emerging from Christian Quarter road, I turned right onto the quiet alley known as Greek Patriarchate Way. Intrigued with a healthy dose of intimidation, I looked forward to my next encounter with Turkish coffee. It would be two years before I touched that black, bitter substance to my lips. But time was not powerful enough to erode my memory of the bitter grounds, and I left them sitting at the bottom of my mug in all their unsavory glory.

After spending close to four months in the land of Israel, I acquired my own taste of the bitter and sweet elements in this troubled, but majestic country. To visit for only a few weeks as a tourist typically means that you taste the sweet parts of the land. You ingest incredibly vistas, walk among the holy places of Jews, Muslims, and Christians. You can take a boat across Galilee, get baptized in the Jordan, pray at the wall, visit the mosque, see more ruins than you can shake a stick at, and take a dip in the warm, clean waters of the Mediterranean. A walk through the shops one days means you’ll probably buy overpriced from souvenirs from merchants you could not possibly know very well. A weekend or two means you attend church or synagogue as a visitor.

There are hints of violence and hatred all around you, and you may run into the occasional riot or clump of soldiers, but you’ll never meet any of the people on either side. You’ll probably never visit a town in the West Bank or Gaza. You won’t have time to hike in the hills and meet all kinds of people. You won’t get to know lonely soldiers patrolling the wilderness. You won’t get to know Bedouins or shepherds. You won’t get to know Palestinian children who live in fear of the tanks that roam their villages. You won’t get to know Palestinian Christians who worship in the midst of many enemies. You won’t get to know rabbis who welcome over 50 people into their homes for dinner and speak of peace. You won’t get to know illogical war-mongers who proclaim to death to all of Israel’s enemies. You won’t get to know secular Israeli’s who want to get on with life and leave war behind. And you won’t get to know the devote Israelis who follow God in quiet devotion.

All of these people drink daily from the sweetness of the land and its bitter grounds. They cannot have one without the other. They cannot keep themselves at arms-length like a tourist, or long-term student for that matter. I cannot say that I drank down all of the bitter grounds while in Israel, but I swallowed enough to respect the various people groups in the land of Israel who hang in the balance between peace and war, hate and tolerance. When given their cup, they must drink deeply and savor the sweetness and bitterness all at once.