Not that many years ago, few visitors would have wandered the backstreets of Balat, Istanbul’s old Jewish quarter. The mass exodus of Turkey’s religious minorities in the early 20th century left the area vacant and in disrepair. But the neighborhood has “good bones” and in an booming megacity like Istanbul it’s only a matter of time before a craft coffee shop pops up on some unexpected backstreet. Enter the Coffee Department.
Whether it’s the original wood exterior or the hand-painted tile floor, Coffee Department is a pearl in the middle of a modernist sea of concrete. In fact, it was the building’s miraculously preserved character that inspired Coffee Department founder Metin Benbasat to choose the up-and-coming Balat over the more established Beyoğlu, which boasts most of Istanbul’s third wave cafes. The interior is spacious by Istanbul standards, although Coffee Department’s 1.5 Kilo Probatino coffee roaster and assorted bags of green coffee take up a sizable footprint.
When I asked Metin why he opened up a café and microroastery, he replied simply. “Because I love it.” After I tried a Chemex of his Kochere, Ethiopia, I realized what he didn’t mention: that he’s also really good at it. Floral aromatics gave way to a sweet, juicy coffee that ranked among the best cups of filter coffee I had during my recent two week stint in Istanbul. Being a two-cups-a-day kind of person, I also had a shot of his Colombia, Aromas Del Sur which was dense, sweet, and immensely enjoyable.
The understated charm and the exceptional coffee quality of Coffee Department make it one of my top coffee destinations in Istanbul. Coffee Department is a short, five-minute walk from the Greek Patriarchate in Fener. For tourists, the easiest way to get to Balat is by bus from Eminönü. If it’s a nice day, take a long but enjoyable walk along the shore of the Golden Horn. Regardless how you get there, make sure you don’t miss this gem when you visit Istanbul.