There is, as one would expect, no Turkish coffee in Armenia. Soorj, that is, coffee prepared in a long-handled Jezve coffee pot, is referred to either as Haykakan (Armenian) or, to be more euphemistic, Aravelyan (Eastern). Arab coffee is easy to identify because of the cardamom, but its northern neighbour, however we call it, is more ambiguous. After nearly seven months living in Armenia, I am still haunted by the first day when, bleary and decaffeinated, I asked for Turkish coffee in a Yerevan café. How could I? The waiter in question still remembers, and when I order from him now, I am triply careful to stress the drink’s fundamental Armenian-ness—Shat haykakan Soorj, Hayastanum, Hayastaneets (very Armenian coffee, in Armenia, from Armenia). “How do you make Turkish coffee?” begins a Soviet-era Radio Yerevan joke. “Simple–burn the coffee crop and then lie about it for a hundred years.”
For a term so restricted in use, the Armenian term Soorj may have quite cosmopolitan origins. The word may be onomatopoeic, Soorj being the slurp made by a contented coffee drinker. In troubled areas of the South Caucasus, the etymology is an appealing one. “Turkish Coffee, Armenian Coffee; it’s all bullshit anyway” summarised a Yerevan taxi driver named Tigran. “Coffee’s from Ethiopia. Or Arabia. Or somewhere. Either way, unless I see coffee growing right here, right now, I can’t call it Armenian”.
When we talk about Turkish coffee, we’re not really talking about coffee
A couple of years ago I visited Abkhazia, and under the arches and palm trees of Sukhumi’s seaside promenade, I ordered Turkish coffee. A Turkish cargo vessel stood on the horizon, punctuating the blue Black Sea as it gave way to clear skies. Hakop and his moustache bristled with indignation. “It may be Turkish when I buy it,” said the Armenian café owner, “but when it comes out of the packet, it becomes Abkhazian Coffee”. The boat’s prow nodded in agreement. I shut up and drank.