Discovered in Ethiopia as the “magic fruit,” and reaching the land of the Ottomans through Yemen in the 15th century, coffee soon assumed its place as a prestigious beverage in the palace and wealthy households. Over time, coffee not only generated its own rituals and ceremonies, but also played an instrumental role in the development of social life. This unique selection from the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics Collection investigates the various routines, rituals, and relationships centered on coffee, as well as concepts associated with modernism, such as public space, social roles, and economics, through an examination of coffee culture and Kütahya ceramic production, which largely contributed to its development.
As the second most important center of ceramic production after İznik during the Ottoman era, Kütahya witnessed intensive ceramic production in the Phrygian, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods, and has upheld this art form to date with traditional methods. Having reached its zenith in the 17th and 18th centuries in terms of creativity, creativity, the ensuing years witnessed a decline in variety and production rate of Kütahya tiles and ceramics. It was once again revived in the late 19th century and, standing somewhere between İznik and Çanakkale ceramics as “urban art,” became an integral part of the Ottoman art mosaic with its broad product range and continuity.
Production as Shaped by Coffee Consumption
As coffee consumption became widespread, objects of coffee rituals, particularly the cups –inspired by Chinese porcelains– were produced in larger quantities. While it is known that limited coffee cup production existed in 16th century İznik, there is no evidence of it in Kütahya prior to the 17th century. Coffee cup production gained momentum in Kütahya in the 17th century and was taken over entirely by Kütahya workshops in the 18th century. Embellished with floral motifs and abstract figures, this product range was expanded through the addition of saucers and cup sleeves. Initially made of ceramic and attached to the cup, the cup sleeve is inherent to Ottoman culture; the saucer, on the other hand, is quite possibly adopted from the West. Used in the preparation, service, consumption, and preservation of coffee, other items such as coffee mill, coffee skillet, coffee cooler, cezve (coffee pot with a long handle), ewer, and coffee jug complement the coffee ceremony.
From Coffee to Cup: the Business of Coffee
Following the arrival of coffee in Europe in the 17th century, coffee trade and production attained a new level; intense trading ensued among Eastern merchants, who were increasingly interested in coffee. During this period, Dutch and British merchants also joined the market and began importing coffee, thus generating large volumes of coffee export to Europe from the East. This intense activity was reflected by coffee cup production; as the Chinese cups and later the Meissen and Sèvres porcelains assumed their places in the palace and wealthy households, their Kütahya-produced replicas became increasingly popular among the public.
Ottoman Social Media: the Coffeehouses
The kahvehane, or coffeehouse, reshaped the perception of traditional space and social roles in the Ottoman Empire. The first examples of coffeehouses emerged in the early 16th century in Mecca, Cairo, and Damascus, finally arriving in İstanbul mid-century. In Tarih-i Peçevî, historiographer Peçevî İbrahim Efendi mentions that two Arab coffee makers, Hakem of Aleppo and Shams of Damascus, arrived in İstanbul in 1554, opened a coffeehouse in Tahtakale, and began selling coffee. Soon becoming popular sites of coffee sale and consumption, coffeehouses evolved into important social venues bringing together people of diverse backgrounds. Springing up all around the city, coffeehouses played an instrumental role in daily life centered on the triangle of home, market, and mosque in the 16th century, offering an important alternative to these places. Although dominantly male in character, the coffeehouse constituted a crucial part of public life in the Ottoman Empire. Unable to join the men in the coffeehouse, women took the opportunity to convene in their houses, even as men carried private habit to public space.
Initially regarded merely as an innovation and dominated by men of all social backgrounds, these venues soon became centers meeting the economic, social, and cultural needs of society. Social events, politics, and the economy were debated here; as their political significance escalated, coffeehouses drew the attention of political authority, which occasionally sought to ban them, perceiving them as a threat to the status quo. Coffeehouses did not have a homogenous typology; there were various categories frequented by neighborhood locals and tradesmen, Jannisaries, fire fighters (tulumbacı), folk poets (âşık), and musical performers (semai). The kıraathane (literally, “reading room” or Salle de Lecture), on the other hand, was introduced to daily life after the Tanzimat era. Coffeehouses thus evolved along with the social changes taking place in the process of Westernization and, over time, were replaced by their Western counterparts, both in terms of traditional style and content.
Exhibition Coordinators: Zeynep Ögel, Ulya Soley
Digital Adaptation: Bihter Ayla Serttürk
Acknowledgements: Sevinç Gök, Hürcan Emre Yılmazer, Havva Şahin, Topkapı Palace Museum, Chester Beatty Library