The folks at KronotRop take coffee pretty seriously.Tucked away in a side street off Taksim's major thoroughfare, Istanbul's first micro roaster and brewery welcomes visitors with a chalk board that reads “IN BUNO VERITAS.”
But the Latin adage is “IN VINO VERITAS” (“IN WINE THERE IS TRUTH”), I thought, the first time I visited the cafe. Apparently noticing my furrowed brow, KronotRrop's founder and barista extraordinaire Çağatay Gülabioğlu smiled. “Buno is the coffee plant region of Ethiopia.”
Below the cleverly reshuffled Latin philosophical quip is the message, “Coffee snobs welcome.”
That is exactly what KronotRop is: a bunch of coffee snobs. And printed on the coffee collars is their almost tribal mantra: “Coffee Snobs offer no apologies. No compromises. No settling for less than your loftiest expectations. Your nose is held high with nostrils flared, stimulated by satisfaction. You've climbed up through the clouds and mist to the tallest mountain and seen the light. You shout from the summit of snobbery: I am coffee snob, hear me brew.”
“There's nothing wrong with that,” smirks Çağatay, proudly acknowledging his coffee snobbery. “I simply respect what coffee can offer. Different beans bring different experiences. The more you know, the more you enjoy it.”
Therein lies the secret of KronotRop, from its coffee to its regulars and, yes, its snootiness -- a never-quite-quenched passion for learning more about growing, roasting, grinding, brewing and enjoying coffee.
“The more I read and learn, the more intense my love [for coffee] becomes,” explains Çağatay, who aspires to make the perfect cup of joe. “Coffee is pure. I'm not looking for new recipes but instead trying to perfect it in its simplicity,” he says as he pulls down from the bookshelf an article entitled “The Perfect Cup” from his collection on coffee brewing and tasting techniques. I thumb through “God in a Cup: Obsessive Quest for Perfect Coffee,” “The Coffee Tasting” and “Coffee Aromas Tree.”
Divine black beverage
The most important factor in brewing a good cup of coffee is freshness, which is what makes KronotRop revolutionary for the java scene in Istanbul.
John McCarroll, Foursquare mayor of KronotRop and the guy who made our blissful introduction, calls the gourmet cafe the future of the espresso scene and suggests Istanbul is beginning to experience a third-wave coffee sea change. "It's a wonderful time to be an espressohead in Istanbul," he said, sipping through the foam on his cappucino. "I mean, just, like, taste this – that's the future."
The beans are single-origin, sourced ethically from countries around the world such as Bolivia, Rwanda, Kenya, Brazil and Honduras and then roasted in-house in small amounts.Çağatay also takes great pride in KronotRop's state-of-the-art machinery, such as his Nuova Simonelli espresso machine -- the official choice of the World Barista Championship -- and conical burr grinders, which pulverize coffee beans silky smooth without overheating them.
Talking to Çağatay, who sports a canvas newsboy cap and a burlap sack as an apron, about coffee is like reading an encyclopedia alongside a poem.
I imagine him as a scientist, his face just as grave and determined, as he measures and delicately places the newly arrived El Salvador Rafael Red Bourbon coffee grounds inside a single-cup ceramic coffee dripper.
The name of his gourmet coffee shop is Turkish for “chronotropic,” Çağatay then explains, a thing that regulates the heart. The “r” is capitalized to refer to a positive chronotrope, such as coffee, that increases the heart rate.
The way Çağatay describes the coffee he loves, brews and drinks, however, is more poetic than scientific. “It's so bright and aromatic. Taste the chocolate and the fruit?” His face lights up as we sip the unbelievably creamy yet acidic coffee. “Now this is freshness.”
Discussing food pairings and coffee names based on the farms from which they come, he effortlessly compares good coffee to fine wine.
Regulars and Geekism
KronotRop opened just a few months ago, but already it has attracted a cluster of regular coffee afficionados.
Meet Max Harwood, KronotRop regular and Australian anthropologist living in Beyoglu. An admitted caffeine addict, Max averages five cups of the black stuff a day.
“This city before the arrival of KronotRop in late 2011 was experiencing a caffeine drought,” he tells me seriously. “Sure, there are coffee shops, but they place an emphasis on something besides the coffee.”
When a premium coffee shop like KronotRop finally came to town, Max was understandably overwhelmed. “I was like someone starving in a desert. So I went for the most ridiculous things on the menu, like a caramel nut latte. And I was openly harassed for it,” says Max, nodding to Çağatay, who simply smiles.
Some of the regulars are foreigners passing through, like Max, but many are locals. They are freelance writers, anthropologists and activists. One of the few things they have in common is this place.
They linger in the cafe and geek out on the Facebook group, where they share single-cup brewing techniques and academic articles on optimizing the flavors and aromas of coffee. And then there are posts like Çağatay's comment below the photo of a woman leaning in to enjoy her coffee: “When an expert cupper sips his/her coffee, the sound produced most closely resembles a long, loud, juicy fart.”
The quirky crowd of regulars is part of what makes KronotRop so refreshing in a sea of international corporate cafes and cookie-cutter coffee franchises.
Çağatay shaking his head when Max admits to drinking instant coffee in the morning not only makes me laugh -- and I laugh spit-out-my-coffee hard -- but also makes me feel part of a tight-knit, slightly eccentric and always buzzed community.
After all, how many customers hang out with their baristas after hours? As I head out, Max and Çağatay are making plans to go on a night run.
Close for comfort
Some may consider the limited seating (four burlap-wrapped stools) in KronotRop a drawback, but the regulars don't mind.
Max, after ordering his “regular” (espresso), leads me to the yellow guard rails along the sidewalk. Noticing someone already lounging there, he shrugs, “My usual is taken,” and moves to a guard rail several steps away.
I rarely strike up conversations with strangers in Istanbul cafes, but that is exactly what I end up doing when I stop by KronotRop. Something about sipping a latte while nearly bumping knees with the person across from you really takes the edge off.
Simply by climbing out of bed and zombie-walking to get coffee, I've met a Turkish guy who built his own road bike, a couple of Europeans who invited me to visit and an Iranian woman who lived in New Orleans, my hometown, for a number of years.
Yeniçarşı Street No. 5/b Beyoğlu-Istanbul