Response Crafting

On Turkish coffee and hospitality

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coffee Istanbul

coffee, Instanbul

“It’s perfect,” we assure him. 

The table is no more than a piece of laminate wood – reminiscent of desktops from school days, but with no more surface space than a pizza box – braced unevenly on four long legs; shafts of cast aluminum.
It wobbles. It is the cobblestone sidewalk and it is the table.

The café owner, an older man who just moments before was deep in conversation with the only other patron in the restaurant, is holding the table with both hands, one on either side, trying to reposition it evenly.

“It’s perfect,” we say.
We wish we understood the Turkish word for “perfect.”

They probably have one even better than ours – a word that serves the purpose of expressing not only evaluation, but gratitude.
Such diction would suit them.

He steps back from the table, only mildly satisfied.
We order two coffees.
“Şeker?” He asks.

It’s close enough, when spoken aloud and in this context, that we understand.
“No.” Simply, without thanking him for asking.
Here, we grant one another the courtesy of simplicity.
He stares at us.

He thinks it’s him – you can see immediately, there in his eyes: a flash of concern.

He wants us to be happy with our coffee, and he knows coffee takes “şeker.”
Especially when ordered by the tourists.
But he’s nervous to ask again, so doesn’t. And leaves.

Moments later, however, he returns to our table, with two teeny empty coffee cups, two teeny saucers.
And the şeker cubes.

He gestures as though to drop a cube into one of the delicately painted cups, repeating: “şeker?”
He urges us to understand the question; to understand that our proper answer is “yes.”
“No,” we try again, as gently as we can, so as not to bruise his efforts in hospitality.
He looks down at the tray, bewildered, and retreats back inside.

A few minutes later, he brings the coffees – no şeker – leaves them on the laminate, and goes back inside.

I brace my knee gently against the table to steady it, so that the coffees are not inadvertently capsized.
We each take our teeny cup between two fingertips, and bring them to our lips.
I am sure he watches us from inside the cafe, and, as we drink, likely experiences a wash of relief and surprise; a sentiment of pride.

We drink slowly, to savor his efforts.
We maintain that at least that should be done “right.”

The coffee is good, as they all are.
It hangs in temperature, warm from first sip to last – a balm to the senses.
And it is marked by the same gentle-gritty charm of the table, of the neighborhood itself.
It is vibrant but understated – a comfort without pretension or showmanship.
In that sense, the coffee is a true extension of the people.

It’s perfect.


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