Serving Coffee in the Epicenter

The Turkish specialty-coffee community is coming together to support earthquake relief.

BY MICHAEL BUTTERWORTH
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

When Niji Coffee went live on Instagram, it felt as though the entire Turkish specialty-coffee community was watching with bated breath. Niji Coffee made a name for itself in the Turkish specialty-coffee scene when, as a relatively unknown roaster out of Gaziantep, their head barista Ali Razzaghzadeh won the Turkish Brewers Cup in 2022.

None of that seemed to matter at the moment. Multiple earthquakes devastated southeastern Türkiye and Syria on Monday, February 6, and Gaziantep was the epicenter of the first quake.

Ali was one of the first people I texted.

“Are you okay?”

A wave of relief came over me when he replied. “We’re okay.” But the rest of his message revealed the severity of the situation.

“It was so big. … It’s still going on.”

Gaziantep was the epicenter of the first disastrous earthquake on February 6. Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay

Unspeakable Damage and Loss

On the livestream, Niji founder Kevser Atmaca takes us on a tour of her neighborhood, revealing collapsed apartment building after collapsed apartment building. Many were once more than 10 stories, now reduced to piles of jagged concrete and twisted rebar. A search-and-rescue team carefully combs through the rubble in hopes of finding survivors. Somberly, Kevser explains that the last person they found hadn’t made it.

At the time of writing, the death toll in Türkiye and Syria has exceeded 30,000 people. It’s officially the deadliest natural disaster in Turkish history.

Relief Efforts on the Ground

Despite being survivors of the earthquake themselves, Kevser and Ali have thrown themselves into relief efforts. They have been brewing coffee for search-and-rescue workers—some of whom are sleeping less than two hours a night as they race to find survivors under the rubble. They’ve also become a hub for delivering aid to the community, sharing whatever resources they can with their neighbors.

“There’s no gas, there’s no water. There’s only sometimes electricity,” Kevser says in the video. “There’s no bread. Mothers don’t have milk or diapers for their babies.”

With tears in her eyes, Kevser turns the camera around and pleads, “Don’t forget about us.” 

The Turkish specialty-coffee community has not forgotten.

Within 24 hours, the SCA Türkiye chapter announced they were organizing a caravan to deliver food, water, and clothing. The overwhelming response from the community led to a second van being dispatched a day later. When I arrived at the meeting place outside Coffee Dept. in Istanbul’s Balat neighborhood, I found baristas Sametcan Genç and Murat Erdoan carefully packing the van to make room for bags of ground coffee, canned food, and diapers.

“We will need to work together in the following days,” says Asli Yaman, national coordinator of the SCA Türkiye chapter. “People will need more help.”

La Marzocco Türkiye has shifted from delivering espresso machines to delivering tents. Çetin Gürer, partner at La Marzocco Türkiye and an off-roading enthusiast, is utilizing his off-roading vehicle to deliver supplies to remote villages.

An aerial view of the city of Adana before the earthquake. Photo by Hulisi Kayaci via Unsplash.

My own company, Etkin, is donating a week of profits from our web store to the effort. It feels like a small gesture to give back to the country where our pourover drippers are designed and manufactured. One of the cities affected, Adana, is my business partner’s hometown. He’s currently on the ground, distributing over-the-counter medicine and tents to those in need.

The unified response of the specialty-coffee community in Turkey has been truly inspiring, but we need more help. We’re asking those who are able to give to relief efforts, such as the TPF Turkiye Earthquake Relief Fund.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Butterworth is the cofounder of Etkin and the inventor of the Etkin 8-Cup Coffee Dripper. He is an Authorized SCA Trainer and a frequent contributor to several food and beverage publications, including his own coffee website, thecoffeecompass.com. He lives in Istanbul with his wife and three children. 

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