Taking Turkish Coffee to the Streets
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2013 00:02
As anybody on the Hilltop could tell you, Georgetown undergrads enjoy their fair share of food trucks. With the weekly appearances of The Big Cheese and D.C. Slices in front of Lau, students can catch a quick bite to eat or midnight snack at a reasonable cost. And while we may feel cultured when an empanada or taco truck pulls up to 37th and O Street, what many don’t realize is that there are plenty of other food trucks a little further beyond the gates that provide a much more meaningful look into foreign traditions. The Mobile Turkish Coffee Truck, which just started its first East Coast tour, is definitely one of these establishments.
Started by American Turkish Association board member Gizem White in 2011, the Turkish Coffee Truck seeks to expose patrons to the significance of Turkish coffee customs.
"I was inspired by the growing trend of food trucks where people can buy lunch, which exposed Americans to more ethnic food," explained White.
Having acquired material and the financial support of Turkey’s oldest coffee ground seller, Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, White was able to offer free coffee to more than 10,000 Americans last year and to begin planning the truck’s East Coast tour. Making stops in Boston, New Haven, New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., the truck has been to various locations including the Turkish embassy, Harvard University and the Empire State Building and has shared the colloquial, communal experience of drinking coffee with hundreds of visitors.
"We created the message, ‘Turkish coffee: taste of friendship,’" said White. "It created cultural conversations. We reached a really big number of people, and Americans love their morning coffee. The main point was making new friends and saying hi to Americans while sharing coffee."
White’s first foray into promoting Turkey’s culture in the United States was with 2008’s Turkayfe.org. On this website, which is also known as Turkey’s international digital coffeehouse, individuals can join conversations, share their experiences and provide different insights. Coffeehouses have had a significant impact on Turkish culture, and White aims to share that — even if just over the Internet — with as many people as she can.
"The first coffeehouse was [founded] in Istanbul in 1555, and the anchors of the community were there. Science, religion and government would all be discussed," White said. "I wanted to contribute to this proud tradition."
The truck itself boasts more than just free cups of joe; it provides booklets and flyers about the culture, arts and traditions, traditional costumes and fortune tellers of Turkey as well.
"Turkish coffee is very unique. The coffee grounds sink to the bottom and make patterns and shapes. The fortune tellers can read your fortune from the cup," said White.
Although a fairly young project, the Turkish Coffee Truck has already garnered attention from major media outlets like The Washington Post and even an official recognition from Congress. With so many years of history and a strong volunteer initiative to promote Turkish culture, White and her coffee truck team have encountered remarkable success during only the second year of their program.
For Georgetown students eager to participate, the last stop of this year’s tour will be February 17 on M Street near the bottom of the Exorcist stairs — the exact address is 3825 M St. White and her sister, also known as the Turkish coffee ladies, will also be hosting an educational presentation with Georgetown’s Turkish Students Association in traditional costumes at Georgetown on February 20.