I’ve longed bemoaned the fact most tourists visiting Istanbul don’t make it to Balat, the old Jewish quarter. In addition to its colorful row houses and historic synagogues, Balat is home to one of my favorite coffee shops, Coffee Department. The roaster/retailer has set themselves apart as one of the strongest brands in a very crowded marketplace, due in no small part to founder Metin Benbasat’s tireless dedication to quality. Benbasat is a longtime resident of Nişantaşı, so it makes sense he would open his second café closer to home.
Although the specialty coffee scene first boomed in nearby Cihangir — a trendy, gentrified neighborhood that invites comparisons to Brooklyn or Shoreditch, the slightly more bourgeois Nişantaşı has emerged as ground zero for the nascent specialty coffee scene. At last count, the neighborhood is home to specialty coffee shops in the double digits, including outposts from almost all of the major roasters/retailers. The opening of Coffee Department’s second location only seals the neighborhood’s title as the densest number of specialty coffee shops we’ve seen anywhere.
The door to Coffee Department’s Nişantaşı café reads simply “Keyif,” which translates to “joy” or “pleasure.” For lovers of small batch, single origin coffee, it’s an accurate description. The café has a certain congruity with Coffee Department’s original café: the wood tones, the clean lines, the occasional vintage accent piece. The slightly subterranean space feels cozy, though the glass wall ensures it stays light and airy. It’s an aesthetic perhaps best identified as a Neo-Ottoman hygge.
Coffee Department’s full line up is available by the cup, with a rotating selection on batch brew. My first visit I enjoyed a cup of Ethiopia Shawo, a natural process that’s true to type: big, berry-like fruit with a complex, floral aroma. My second visit I opted for a shot of Brazil, Pedro Azul– the house espresso. This espresso was big on body and sweetness, with a low acidity, which made for some easy drinking. It’s the sort of espresso that works great in milk, but holds up on its own as well.
Although Coffee Department might be the newest coffee shop in Nişantaşı, they’ve already established themselves as a destination. Expect a careful eye for detail, excellent service, and delicious coffee.