Syphons look cool, the French press allows you to ingest a quart of coffee in public while appearing chic instead of addicted, and the recent influx of “pourovers” is a slick way to charge $5 for a cup of plain-old drip coffee. But there is something magical about the viscous brew you'll find at hookah lounges, Middle Eastern restaurants, and, yes, a handful of coffee shops around town.
Despite the surfeit of coffee roasters throughout Los Angeles, few grind their beans to a pixie-fine dust and transform them into the decadence that is a traditional cup of Turkish — or Armenian, or Greek, or Lebanese, or Persian, or Bosnian, or Ethiopian, depending on your bias — coffee. Served in a demitasse with the remaining coffee in a copper cezve, it makes for a unique ritual, and when you've finished off the coffee you can flip the cup over, let the grinds streak down the sides in sinuous trails, and have a tasseographer read your fortune.
Great care is taken to prepare this coffee. First, the beans are ground super-fine in a special grinder, either a Turkish hand grinder or an electric burr grinder, then water — often sweetened and sometimes infused with spices like cardamom — is boiled in the cezve. Once boiling, the grounds are added, and the coffee is brought back up to a boil. The heat is then turned down, the froth skimmed off the top, and the coffee is brought back up to a boil a few more times. After the coffee has boiled over a few times, it must sit for a few minutes so the grounds can settle, and then it's poured into the demitasse.
This method of preparation is simply the original method for coffee making. The first recorded history of coffee consumption comes from Yemen, and the Ottomans were the first folks on planet earth to open up a coffee shop in Constantinople in the 1640s. You can trace the etymology of coffee back to the Arabic qahwah.
We could venture into the contentious appellative politics of this coffee — do you call it Greek or Armenian or Turkish or Bosnian? — but we'd rather point you to the best cups in L.A. and save the debate for NPR. For clarity and consistency, we'll stick to Turkish coffee. Here are our favorite spots in Los Angeles to cozy up with this unique coffee.
5. Mama's Secret
Incongruous within its Beverly Grove neighborhood, Mama's Secret is a charming, artsy, mismatched cafe filled with eclectic dining sets, both new and old — some wobbly and worn and painted over in lime green and mellow yellow, random tchotchkes placed here and there, and an old-school bicycle blanketed by foliage that rests in a corner on a thick cut of Astroturf.
Between the dining sets and the bicycle installation you'll find a classic cup of Turkish coffee that arrives in a modern white cup and saucer, complete with a fairy-light piece of Turkish delight. The coffee isn't super sludgy, so if you like a lighter cup, this is a pick for you. Settled at the bottom of the cup is a nice thick layer of grounds, so there's plenty of fodder for your fortune, or, if you prefer, you can stir that up into the liquid for a stronger sip. Either way, you'll feel pretty cool patronizing this unique spot. And if you're looking for a more exotic alternative to the L.A. brunch scene, check out their fantastic Turkish breakfast. 8314 W 3rd St, Los Angeles; (323) 424-3482.
4. Aroma Cafe
There are lots of Aroma Cafés in Los Angeles — so don't get confused. The Aroma Café with an Eastern European bent is nestled in a small strip mall just a few blocks east of the 405 on Overland. Owned by Bosnians, this is one of the few spots in L.A.where you can order everything from beef goulash to lamb kebab to pijeskavica — a Bosnian burger. And while they've named their coffee “Turkish”, they admit this is just for clarity, explaining that you can find this type of coffee all throughout Eastern Europe.
The presentation of the Turkish coffee here is old-school and charming. Served on an ornate plate with a square of Turkish delight the color of rose quartz, the coffee is great on its own or as a finish to a full-on meal. The relaxed and homey ambiance of this cafe is one that lets you linger indefinitely and without care — not a bad antidote to the American hurry. 2530 Overland Ave., Los Angeles; (310) 836-2919.
3. Funnel Mill
It's no surprise that the place that sells an $80 cup of Kopi Luwak would also offer Turkish coffee. The Funnell Mill, a regal coffee shop filled with syphons, trickling waterfalls and a large selection of rare coffees from around the globe, soothes your nerves upon entering, which is odd, since you're about to get caffeinated. The place is hushed, the clientele studious, and the baristas (scientists?) behind the counters are hyper-focused on their coffee-making. Everyone's taking this place seriously, as it should be.
Their Turkish coffee comes with a lukewarm glass of water, intended to wash down the sediments that you are encouraged to “eat” with the tiny spoon that accompanies your beverage. Made with Balthazar beans from South America, this is a super strong cup of Turkish coffee, just how we like it. Make sure you have time to spare when you order it — the preparation takes a good 20 minutes. 930 Broadway St., Ste. A, Santa Monica; (310) 393-1617.
2. The Red Dragon
If you're looking for a place to hang that's too honest to be hip, too charming to be cool, and too random to be contrived, The Red Dragon is it. Stuffed animals and toys pile up in a corner that looks like the kids' section at Barnes and Noble, and a hodgepodge of British tchotchkes — mostly floral tea cups and tea pots, but also a Queen Elizabeth figurine — decks out the pastry case along with the shortbread cookies. Saturated with LACC kids plugged into devices, conversations, or the open-mic on Friday nights, the small, British-owned coffee shop is a place you'll either love or hate. We definitely love it.
Here you'll find an impressive offering of teas — including Irish Breakfast, Yorkshire Gold and PG Tips — along with three kinds of “sipping chocolate” and a earthy cup of Turkish coffee. You can order this coffee infused with a Red Dragon spice blend that has a similar profile to chai, one that pairs well with the poignant brew. It's a pleasant surprise that a whimsical cafe specializing in British teas would put out such a solid cup of Turkish coffee, and we tip our hats to that. 860 N Vermont Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 453-2411.
1. Ali Mama Café
The middle-aged Middle Eastern men smoking hookahs leisurely outside Ali Mama Café into the late evening are a refreshing sight on a Silver Lake sidewalk, and they disabuse the public's misconception that hookah smoking is some sort of hipster/poser past-time. Whether or not you want to join in with the hookahs, you should stop by this very homey cafe — which isn't trying to be anything other than its unpolished self — for a killer cup of Turkish joe.
Amine Ghrab, the very hospitable and friendly owner, cooks up an outstanding coffee that he will infuse with cardamom or lavender or sweetener, depending on your preference. The viscosity, the flavor, and the generous portion of this particular Turkish coffee sets it above the rest. Ali Mama is a very popular spot that can get crowded in the later evening, so if you want to enjoy your coffee while working on your screenplay or dating profile, hit the cafe earlier in the evening when they open at 6 p.m. 3229 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 668-0856.