According to the World health organization data, each day, about one and a half billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world. At least ten million of that number are consumed in Serbia.
Natives of Serbia were introduced to its highness, coffee, by Turkish invaders. The word “kafana“ is of Turkish origin and signifies a house where people drink coffee. Such medieval coffee shops were opened for the first time opened in Constantinople, in the beginning of the 16th century.
While conquering the Balkan peninsula and advancing towards Europe, the Turks were building mosques as well as “kafanas“, small temples dedicated to coffee. As a result, in 1521, in Belgrade, the first coffee shop opened its doors, welcoming all those who wanted to enjoy the taste and the smell of black, Turkish coffee.
One of the oldest coffee shops in Belgrade, is the "?" shop, a charming little place facing the Saborna church.
The “?” kafana (yes, its name is really just the question mark) received its name after making the unfortunate choice of naming itself after the Cathedral across the street, Saborna Cirva. According to famous Serbian writer Momo Kapor, church authorities were enraged and demanded the sign with the name be brought down. When a painter placed a question mark where the name was supposed to be, the name stuck.
Although a bit unorthodox, the question mark seemed like the most natural and appropriate choice. The coffee shop was one of many. Similar establishments sprouted like mushrooms all over Serbia. Drinking coffee became an unavoidable daily ritual.
Today, that black Turkish coffee still tops the charts of Serbian people. Espresso, Nescafé and filter coffee did earn their place in the line up, but, in Serbia, it is the black Turkish coffee that carries the weight of a cultural and social phenomenon. Enjoying coffee is a science, signifying a slow-paced life, a life of order and peace.
What separates black coffee from other coffees is its preparation method and the thick layer of sludgy grounds that is left behind at the bottom of the cup, after the coffee has been consumed. Sugar and milk can be added to the coffee. It is prepared in a “dzezva”, a vessel where the water is boiled. When the water reaches the boiling point a spoonful of coffee powder is added to the water for each cup of coffee. The methods vary, only one should be careful, the coffee doesn’t boil over, although as people say, it indicates a financial windfall.
Despite the popularity of the drink in Serbia children are not allowed to drink it. They are often told that, "If you drink coffee, you will grow a tail," to dissuade them, but the strong taste it probably the real reason.
Therefore, once you have sipped your first coffee you are welcomed into the world of grown ups. But once you decide to have your first Serbian coffee experience in company of locals, you will become a part of a big family.
The kind of coffee you’re drinking is not all that important, should it be black, Turkish, Nescafé, Espresso, it is the feeling of unity and social bonding that matters. Even when you’re sipping it alone, be certain that at the very moment, millions of people around the world are sharing the experience and enjoying the black and divine beverage with you.