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Turkey to Appeal Turkish Coffee to UNESCO

By Joe Cox

The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism is readying an appeal to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to include the Turkish coffee on the organisation’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Along with mesir paste, a traditional spicy energizing supplement in the form of candy, Turkish coffee will be joining other Turkish cultural traditions to join the list since 2003, like the whirling dervish ceremony, Kırkpınar oil wrestling and shadow theatre.

As UNESCO only accepts one file every year the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s General Director of Research and Education, Ahmet Arı, has confirmed that mesir paste will be given priority although they hope to have the characteristically thick Turkish coffee included soon.

The move is bound to antagonise Greeks who have their own claims to the regional drink. The age old debate between the two countries is indicative of the political tensions that still exist in the region and is sure to cause many Greek much consternation, whilst also dragging UNESCO into the debate.

The earliest coffee drinkers were thought to have come from Yemen in the 15th Century where it quickly spread throughout the Arab world. In fact the ubiquitous ‘Turkish coffee’ is often referred to as ‘Arabic coffee’ although Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese and Iraqis will all draw distinctions to their own specific beverages.

The dissemination and spread of coffee throughout the Arabian world through the ages highlights the complexities in assuming cultural ownership over specific variants of the beverage. National borders shift and ethnic groups disperse making it very hard not only to pinpoint the origins of Turkish coffee but all manner of other cultural heritage.

The history of coffee in the Middle East is a fascinating subject that is intricately tied to the shifting sands of culture throughout the centuries as empires rise and wane. For more details why not browse my three part history of coffee.

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