Past the entertainment hub and aquarium of Viaport Rotterdam is a small cafe. From the outside, it appears as open and appealing as any other: A couple at small wooden table are laughing and talking in low voices over steaming cups. A child climbs onto a plush armchair while his mother waits for a chopped salad order. Behind the counter, Bahar Turunc smiles and greets her latest customer, who surveys a platter of her homemade brownies.
There’s something special about Chipmunk Coffee. In addition to espresso-based drinks, hot sandwiches and salads, Bahar and her husband Mustafa Turunc serve specialty drinks and treats from their home in Turkey—from their smooth coffee and loose herbal teas to their assorted artisan sweets and pastries.
The couple moved to the Capital Region a little over a year ago from their home in Istanbul, the massive Turkish city home to nearly 15 million people, where Mustafa was a banker and Bahar was a brand manager for the Nestle Nestea company.
“After our son was born two years ago, we decided to move here,” Mustafa says. “We decided to say bye to corporate life. We like operating a coffee shop, it’s an interactive job.”
When they applied for their E-2 work visa before moving to the states, he adds, the consulate offered a few options–ranging from tobacco to ice cream shops–but with their experience in customer service and drink products, a cafe seemed like the safest choice.
“They relate, some sectors–fast-moving consumer goods and businesses. The coffee industry is going very fast. Coffee is the most consumed item after oil in the trade world,” he says. “Coffee is always valuable.”
They came to New York as soon as their visa was approved at the the end of August 2016 and opened Chipmunk Coffee in 15 days.
While neither Mustafa or Bahar had experience with artisan coffee before, they say finding a home in the languid Rotterdam mall has given them a chance to perfect their craft and explore the ins and outs of the coffee business over the past year. They felt at home in Viaport, which is a major mall management company based out of Turkey.
“When we learned that they’re investing here, it affected our decision, instead of moving to a crowded city in a new world. This mall is slow and the business is slow but we learn the business on a small scale.”
With more time between visitors, the Turuncs have had time to work on their barista skills, receive feedback and create lasting relationships with customers who now come to see them on a regular basis, choosing Chipmunk over their old go-to spots.
“You cannot fix the mistake of an employee if you don’t know what the difference between frothing the milk in a latte, cappuccino or macchiato,” Mustafa explains, highlighting their minimal use of machinery. “The machine is taking the right amount of milk, the right amount of coffee so it’s not an artisan coffee. People don’t need any kind of skill or craft to prepare the perfect latte or cappuccino. Here we are not like that, we are using ‘old’ people skills.”
The cafe has a sizable menu of sandwiches, salads, ice creams and smoothies, in addition to their coffee and tea varieties. However, the stars of the show at Chipmunk Coffee are the flavorful drinks and treats they brought from back home. The Turkish coffee served in Rotterdam could very well be the same you would find in an cozy Istanbul cafe. The Turuncs have worked with the traditional brand of Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, which dates back to 1871.
Leaning over a cup of Turkish coffee and croissant that Bahar has just pulled from the oven, Mustafa takes us back to 14th century Istanbul–birthplace of the first coffee house– during time of the Ottoman Empire. Venetian traders visiting Turkey became taken with drink, he says, bringing it back to Italy and creating the espresso. Today at Chipmunk Cafe, you can enjoy the original version of the Westernized drink.
Traditionally cooked in a pan, the drink poured into a serving cup along with the finely ground coffee, which comes to rest at the bottom of the cup. It’s one aspect of the specialty that the couple reminds first-time drinkers of most: You shouldn’t stir or shake your cup.
Served in a small four-ounce cup, it appears to be very similar to espresso but the difference lies in its tone, style and intensity. The coffee is strong but lacks the bitterness of espresso, leaving an impeccably smooth–almost chocolatey–taste.
“If your coffee has lots of bubbles it means that your coffee is fresh and cooked in a good way. Bubbles show the quality of your Turkish coffee,” Turunc advises.
Though roughly 90 percent of the service at the cafe is to-go, he says, traditionally a small cup of water is served with the coffee for those who opt to sit and enjoy a cup in-house, along with a small complimentary sweet.
Most popularly, that treat would be a Turkish delight–or bite-sized, incredible sweet cubes of dense jelly flavored with fruit. The cafe has a solid variety from fig and walnut, pomegranate and kadaif (a Turkish pastry), dusted in ground pistachio or sprinkled in delicate rose petals.
Another must-try specialty at the cafe is the aromatic and comforting salep. The non-caffeinated drink is made of frothed milk and the powdered tubers of orchid flowers that grow in the Turkish region of Anatolia. Topped with a sprinkling of cinnamon, the drink is usually served in the winter and warms you to your core. “It’s a very extraordinary drink,” he attests.
The salep is also served as a loose leaf tea, along with traditional Turkish black tea and a floral linden tea along with over 15 additional assortments.
Mustafa says the cafe will continue to experiment with new recipes and flavors, thanks to their newest business partner Ibrahim Demirtas–who flew in from Istanbul last Tuesday. The chef has spent the past 16 years working in what Mustafa says are the city’s “most respected” cafes and restaurants and has plenty of ideas. The team also looks to dip into the roasting game after a few years to become fully artisanal coffee service, but are taking the time to perfect their current business model. For now, the family behind Chipmunk Coffee has the enthusiasm for the quality and tradition of their new craft to make it worth a visit.
Chipmunk Coffee & Tea, 93 W Campbell Rd, Schenectady