Petra Roasting Co
by Madeline Reidy
After studying business in Boston and working at Toby’s Estate in NYC, Bergsen returned to his native Istanbul to start Petra roasting company, helping to usher in Turkey’s new wave of specialty coffee.
My love affair with specialty coffee began during a summer stint at a gelato shop in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC. Having spent a semester studying in Florence, I was ready to dive deep into the world of artisanal gelato, but another unexpected amore held my attention during those four months. I found myself at the helm of a la Marzocco espresso machine—which, incidentally, comes from the city of Florence— fumbling my way around the majestic piece of equipment, pulling espresso shots and gaining a feel for the exact sound and temperature that signal the perfectly steamed milk for a cappuccino.
I may never have perfected my latte leaves, which most of the time ended up resembling shrivelled, late autumn foliage, but it was nevertheless a fond initiation into the so-called “third wave” of specialty coffee that was gathering momentum around the United States. Soon, specialty coffee shops were cropping up everywhere, even in far-flung neighborhoods. Evidently, Americans were coming to consider good quality coffee as more than just a privilege for a budding class of aficionados. The hustle and bustle guzzling of burnt coffee in a Styrofoam cup had finally given way to a new trend of everyday ritual enjoyment.
Kaan Bergsen, founder of Petra Roasting Co in Istanbul, also experienced the jolt of the third-wave stateside. After studying business at Babson College in Boston, he moved to New York and worked at Toby’s Estate before heading back to his native Istanbul to start his own coffee roasting company, helping to usher in Turkey’s own new wave of specialty coffee.
It is easy to imagine that specialty coffee in Istanbul has gained a presence with a rapidity that may be unrivalled by other major international cities. Just five years ago, I abandoned the flourishing scene of the “third wave” in the states and landed on the shores of Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, where I would spend the next year and half teaching English. My regular caffeine fix came from imbibing copious amounts of çay—a traditional Turkish tea from the Black Sea coast made in a double boiler tea pot—and, on rarer occasions, Turkish coffee. As was fairly common then, the coffee served at my workplaces was instant Nespresso with powdered milk. When the odd craving for something closer to a real American filtered coffee or an Italian-inpsired espresso-based drink hit, the options were, at least in my recollection, relatively sparse. That was in 2011.
Four years later, walking through the winding streets of Kadikoy and into the trendy Moda district, it seems that I can’t turn a corner without finding a specialty coffee shop. As my friend and I finish up lunch at my favorite restaurant on the Asian side, Çiya Sofrasi, the effervescent, chatty manager—who seems himself to be adequately caffeinated—even recommends that we head across the street to a new coffee shop a block over. The establishment had already stood out to us on our walk over for the telltale signs of high-end caffeine—a la Marzocco espresso machine, Chemex filters, and a tattooed, mustachioed barista perfecting his latte art.
“Three years ago, you couldn’t get any roasted coffee in Turkey from a Turkish business, so that’s a huge leap,” says Bergsen. “Where people used to buy their coffee was the same place where they would buy their dishwashing detergent. Now they are into learning where the coffee is from and how it’s roasted. On the wholesale side, we have changed a lot.”
Petra started out initially as a roasting company. Now an upstart fixture in the coffee scene, they supply around forty to fifty customers, primarily high end hotels, cafes and restaurants. Bergsen later decided to open a cafe in their impressively sized space, also home to the art gallery Muse, to gain customer insights. Today, they have a kiosk in Kanyon, a high-end shopping mall in Levent. What's more, this past summer, they opened a seasonal shop in Alaçatı, an old Greek village on the Aegean coast famous for wind and kitesurfing, where they served coffee by day and boozy cocktails by night. Despite the booming coffee business, they currently remain one of only two specialty coffee wholesalers in Turkey.
Located in Gayrettepe on the European side of the city, the primary setback to Petra is its location, less than ideal for a trendy establishment. Although it is situated at the crossroads of commuter traffic, just five minutes from the bustling neighborhoods of Besiktas and Nisantası, the space lacks visibility. It’s the kind of place you couldn’t happen upon incidentally, but perhaps its quietude is what makes the atmosphere so idyllic.
The interior, which was pieced together by Bergsen and his team with various antiques—including a vintage Mercedes, and a few handmade works by one of their staff members—is part coffee shop and part art gallery. The sheer amount of industrial space can seem austere, but cozy pockets with vintage sofas and worktables are inviting. It would be the perfect spot to spend the afternoon working on a laptop, and transition into the evening sipping on a mint julep while listening to vinyls. Although they don’t have a liquor license in this location, Bergsen says one is in the works, along with a French brasserie-style cafe in Nisantası.
I take a Chemex coffee, which is on the sour side, but nevertheless lovely, smooth and strong. Bergsen, however, is critical of the day’s batch. “For me, this is a bit too sour at the end and bitter at the same time. We like our coffees more on the sweet side. I know this coffee. After this, it’s going to be fruitier and fuller.”
In line with many other roasters of the third wave, Petra aims to have one hundred percent transparent coffee. Bergsen knows how the coffee beans are picked, packed and processed, and when time allows, tries to visit the source of his beans. For potential visitors, he is most enthusiastic about their upcoming Kenyan coffees. His approach to coffee roasting is precise, with an almost obsessive level of dedication, guided by the wisdom of a German mentor: “Collect all the data you can. What time you roasted, how the weather is outside, what music you are listening to, how your mood is, everything you can log, log. Then, you see a pattern happening.”
One thing that seems to be missing from all of these new wave coffee shops is Turkish coffee, which is most likely due to its competitively low cost and household use. Bergsen likens the process of roasting Turkish coffee to overcooking meat. Cheap beans are purchased and darkly roasted to the point where the taste becomes uniform, but it is an economical way of making coffee that can be easily done at home, and of course, has a special place in Turkish culture. Perhaps Bergsen will one day take on the task of revamping it, but for now he is content to continue on his current trajectory.
“I think it’s one of the nicest industries to work in right now. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”