Istanbul, like much of the world, has spent the last three months locked down due to COVID-19. Coffee shops, along with bars and gyms, were some of the first businesses to be shut down by the government. As such, I went the longest stint I’ve gone in my coffee-drinking life without having an espresso or cappuccino.
Of course, it’s hard to complain about missing such luxuries when so many have truly been forced to go without. Besides, if I’m being honest, it hasn’t been coffee I’ve missed as much as coffee shops. The human interaction. A space to be creative. Bumping into old friends and make new ones. Corona Virus might have called the economic viability of coffee shops into question, but we’ve never been in greater need of the holistic services a good coffee shop provides.
Although the pandemic is far from over, coffee shops have slowly been allowed to reopen, following a rigorous protocol of PPE, social distancing, and sanitation. In the midst of such uncertain times, Istanbul’s Nişantaşı neighborhood has welcomed a new café: the latest location of Cup of Joy.
This leafy, greenhouse-like space is located in the garden at the Kalyon Kültür center. Renovating an Ottoman-era mansion for its philanthropic foundation is somewhat obligatory for large Turkish holding companies, and the Kalyon center is the latest example. I’ve walked past the ornate stone structure hundreds of times, always noting how it stood out amongst the stark, Modernist apartment complexes that flank it on either side. However, I never stopped to consider this mansion might have a beautiful garden, let alone guess that garden would house a beautiful coffee shop.
Cup of Joy was an early pioneer in the Istanbul specialty coffee scene and their newest café couldn’t be more different from the original location in Bebek, which is practically subterranean with no natural light. Cup of Joy Nişantaşı has, if anything, too much natural light, thanks to its glass ceiling and walls. But after so many lockdown days, I’m not complaining. Simply being outside and enjoying a cup of coffee feels like an incomparable luxury in a COVID-19 world.
The coffee at Cup of Joy is roasted by their sister company Kimma Coffee. On my first visit I opt for an espresso, which arrives in a blue ceramic cup rather precariously perched on a wooden pedestal. Cup of Joy seems to have taken the concept of an elevated coffee service quite literally. The espresso is a blend, neither dark nor light. Rich and full bodied, the flavor profile somewhere between caramel and milk chocolate. It’s the right sort of espresso for what’s essentially a museum café. Contemporary, yet approachable. Sweet, but enough acidity to win over the light roast crowd.
On a subsequent visit, I run into Mustafa Aydın, one of Cup of Joy’s trainers. I had the honor of judging Mustafa in the Brewers Cup competition earlier this year. His performance and brewing skills earned him third place– one of the best coffees I’ve had all year. Like in the competition, Mustafa’s expertise behind the bar proved to elevate my experience.
For most of Istanbul’s 15 million residents, green space is an unaffordable luxury. In fact, Istanbul ranks as one of the cities with the least amount of green spaces. In this context, Cup of Joy Nişantaşı is more than a place to get a good cup of coffee, it’s a green oasis in a concrete desert. It’s a quiet garden where you can breath a little easier, and yes, even find some joy.