Virtual Road Trip: East Meets West at Starbucks Stores in Istanbul
Istanbul, Turkey has long been a crossroads for merchants, romantics, and armies.
Strategically spanning the continents of Europe and Asia across the Bosporus straight, caravans have rumbled through Istanbul since ancient times. For centuries, it was a major stop along the arduous Silk Road trade route across thousands of miles from western Europe to eastern Asia. By the 1883, the Orient Express brought travelers in comfort and luxury by rail from Paris’s Gare de l'Est station to its last stop at Istanbul’s Sirkeci Terminal at Asia’s doorstep.
Coffee was first brought to this bustling trade city when it was known as Constantinople during the Ottoman Empire in 1555. The Ottomans soon invented a new way to drink coffee by grinding roast coffee finely to a powder and then slowly cooking with water.
Coffee became a part of the social culture, and coffeehouses became a place for people to read, play games, and discuss poetry and literature. Merchants who passed through Istanbul brought coffee in their travels, and over the next century coffeehouses began to appear throughout Europe and the Arabian world.
Starbucks has been a part of the coffeehouse tradition in Istanbul since opening its first store here with partner Alshaya in 2003. There are now more than 200 stores in the country, from the northern coast of the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea in the south.
“Istanbul is a city with a rich coffee history, and is the birthplace of the coffeehouse. But it is also a changing, modern place,” said Rogier van Est, senior design manager for Starbucks store design and concepts in Europe, Middle East and Asia. “We are free to experiment here, with different materials and layouts. We can celebrate the country’s deep heritage but with a bit of modernism and newness.”
He takes us on a tour of some of his favorite Starbucks stores in the city:
Taksim Meydan, Taksim Square
A shuttle ride from Istanbul Atatürk Airport will bring you to into Taksim Square on the European side of the city in the heart of modern Istanbul. The popular pedestrian İstiklal Avenue branches off from the square – lined with Turkish bakeries, fish markets, textiles, boutiques, and cafes.
The store design is modern, with a nod to Turkish mercantile heritage. The space takes inspiration from the window displays found along Istaklal with colorful displays of pastries, food and coffee. Wide steps lead downstairs to a lounge with occasional seating and a round community table that anchors the space.
“One of the things that makes this store at Taksim Meydan special is that it is Starbucks 200th store in Turkey,” he said. “The store is a celebration of both the Starbucks brand and our decade-long partnership with Alshaya in the country.”
A short bus ride from Taksim Square is the seaside village of Bebek, a lively area near the stone towers of the Rumeli Hisari fortress with cafés, restaurants and nightlife.
The four-story Starbucks store at Bebek is perched above the European side of the Bosporus, with views of the sea and Asia beyond. The store has two bars, a whitewash interior, and large picture windows. A spiral staircase connects customers down to the main deck.
“The design has the light, airy feel of an American beach house, but with traditional woods found in Turkey,” he said. “It’s the perfect place to go outside and enjoy the fresh sea air.”
Akasya Acibadem Shopping Mall
From the small steamboat port at Bebek, catch a ferry over to the small port of Kadiköy on the Asian side of the city. From here, a 10-minute cab ride brings you to the luxurious new Akasya Acibadem Shopping Mall. The new Starbucks store, which opened in March 2014, offers a stunning showcase of Starbucks coffee heritage.
The two-level store tells the story of coffee excellence. The bar is a focal point in the design, clad with patina brass to evoke the mood of a vintage coffee roaster. The space also features warm materials like wooden walls and copper and brass, which are used in the traditional making of Turkish coffee. Green-stained concrete mimics the lush leaves of coffee trees.
“In Turkey, we are able to source many of our design elements locally, such as light fixtures, salvaged wood, or marble,” he said. “We also use local art and craftspeople to make the spaces authentic and real.”
A five-minute cab ride down the D-100 highway brings you to the Kozyatağı business district for the last stop in the tour. Here the store is just off the main highway, a quick stop for commuters on the way to work, or a place for area residents and businesspeople to stop and relax.
The two-story façade has been reclad to mimic the main interior wall. The faded light green-gray wood makes reference to the shipping crates and transportation boxes.
“In Turkey, you see an interesting mix between modern building and history, East and West,” said van Est. “You can see that same dynamic at work in our store designs.”
How to Make Turkish Coffee at Home
Turkish coffee is enjoyed after meals and during social gatherings. Here’s how to make Turkish coffee for two at home:
What you need
- 2 demitasse cups for serving
- Special wide-bottom Turkish coffee pot, called a cezve
- 2/3 cup cold filtered water
- 2 heaping tablespoons coffee, such as Starbucks® Guatemala Antigua, ground to finest (Turkish) setting
- 2 teaspoons sugar, if desired
- Add 2/3 cup cold water to the cezve.
- Add ground coffee and sugar (if desired).
- Place pot on the stovetop, swirl for 3 seconds to coat all coffee particles.
- Slowly bring coffee mixture to a boil over medium heat, watching closely for 3 minutes.
- When boil is achieved, allow the tan-colored foam, called the crema, to rise in the pot. Pour half of coffee mixture into the two demitasse cups.
- Bring back the remaining coffee mixture to a boil without additional stirring. Pour into cups, alternating to evenly distribute the crema.
- Once the grounds settle, enjoy with a glass of chilled water and a few pieces of Turkish Delight candy.
Our Next Stop
We’ll take ride the rails to some of the world’s most storied cities.