This was my third trip to Istanbul and I was determined to drink as many tiny cups of Turkish coffee as I could get my hands on, so when I read this NPR article about Turkish coffee, I paid particular attention to the cafe mentioned in the first line, Mandabatmaz. The hotel we stayed at was just a few minutes’ walk from Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi, off of which is the small, dead-end alley that houses Mandabatmaz. Am I ashamed to say I went there three times? No, of course not. The coffee served here is by far the best Turkish coffee I’ve ever had. Maybe I’m missing out somewhere else, but compared to all other cups of Turkish coffee (or whatever name it goes by), this stuff was amazing. Thick, dark, smooth, lightly spiced and sweetened. Nearly half of the cup is filled with undrinkable dregs, which I take as a sign that it’s brewed correctly. In comparison, I bought a cup of Turkish coffee in the Grand Bazaar (I should’ve known better, but I needed to justify taking up a table at a cafe) and it had barely any dregs at the bottom of the cup. A travesty! Although, if I’m getting charged 7 TL for a mediocre Turkish coffee, I guess I’d rather be able to drink the whole thing.
Back to Mandabatmaz. It’s an adorable little set-up with tiny stools and tables set up in the alleyway, flowers hanging from the shop window and potted plants on various surfaces. If all the tables are occupied, they’ve also set up ledges in several spots that are perfect for leaning up against. Considering the amount of coffee you’re buying, there’s no need to get comfortable for long.
From what I can tell after reading this 2009 post on Istanbul Eats, the same cute old Turkish man is still acting as the faithful brewmaster. Cheers to him, because he brought coffee-joy to my life that week. I wondered, squatting on a tiny wooden stool, perched on a slightly inclined cobblestone street, waiting patiently for my coffee so-thick-even-a-water-buffalo-wouldn’t-sink-in-it to cool down, watching the waiter dash back and forth from customers to brewmaster, three coffees – medium sweet, two coffees – very sweet, one coffee – unsweetened, if he loved or loathed the repetitive nature of his job? The grinding, pouring, patiently waiting for the cezve to foam up, the first boil, the first cooldown, the second boil, and so on.
One night after dinner, my family and I were walking along Istiklal Caddesi and Farrell and I told them about our experience having the best Turkish coffees of our lives on this very street. Let’s see if they’re still open, you have to try one, it’s so amazing, I said. But it’s late, would they really still be open? We had stopped there previously in the early afternoon, and I had a hard time imagining that one man could have the will and patience to make coffee all day. But we got to the little side street and the alley was lively with fashionable Istanbulites, with their colored jeans (very on-trend) and clean shoes and cigarettes and carefree laughs. It was just as busy as the first time we went, and the same man was standing over the burners, sending out a steady stream of luscious coffee in tiny cups.
I imagine that at this point, word about Mandabatmaz is getting out to tourists (such as myself), but it still had the feel of some secret that I had privileged knowledge about. There are no signs directing you to turn down the correct side street, but the street isn’t so long and hidden that you wouldn’t see the cafe if you happen to glance in the right direction. It is located far enough down Istiklal Caddesi that the crowds will taper off and you’ll be out of the zone of those horrible, costumed ice cream jerks clanging bells and yelling at tourists (can you tell I hate them?), but still within a populated, well-lit area. The cafe is no-frills, it doesn’t advertise its amazing elixir and it doesn’t present its accolades other than a few yellowing Turkish newspaper clippings hung up inside the shop. The coffees are also the cheapest I had in Istanbul at 3.50 TL per cup; I’m certain that if someone is charging more than 5 TL, then they are most certainly ripping you off. You might as well avoid the trouble and stick to Mandabatmaz if you’re serious about your Turkish coffee. It will be tough to shake off that memory for a long time.