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Turkish coffee talk

Times Staff Writer

Mustafa Arat knows how to sell.

He did it for 27 years for Xerox Corp., Pitney-Bowes Inc. and other Fortune 500 companies. Now he’s doing it for himself, peddling something that almost every grown-up craves. Only, as Arat figures it, he’s providing a healthier alternative. And he’s not selling a product so much as a method that he sees as a hot trend.

From his home in Corona, Arat runs www.turkishcoffeeworld.com, a retailer for everything needed to make and serve Turkish coffee. He offers a big selection of pots, grinders, gift items and fresh coffee.

“I actually kind of stumbled onto Turkish coffee as a possible product idea by a coincidence, while I was searching for ways to stop smoking,” said Arat, 55, whose health issues forced him to make lifestyle and career changes.

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“As anyone who has tried to stop smoking knows, after meals can be one of the worst times to deal with the urge to smoke,” he said. “I decided to prepare Turkish coffee after my meals to deal with my urges, and it sure has worked for me.”

Turkish coffee, he said, “takes several minutes to prepare . . . which keeps a person busy.”

A demanding job, hectic days and a four-hour work commute had occupied him for much of his life -- and contributed to his suffering a heart attack in 2005, leading him to quit smoking, he said. Before he took up Turkish coffee, he didn’t even own a cezve (pronounced “jazz-veh”), the brew’s special pot.

Arat -- who holds anthropology and international business degrees from Western Michigan University and Indiana University -- considered selling other products, especially items in the technology sector, before he struck on Turkish coffee.

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“Sales and marketing is something in me,” said the Turkish native, who remembers selling gum in front of an Istanbul circus when he was 12.

Arat took two years to research Turkish coffee and its varied associated products and sources worldwide. He got samples from manufacturers and sold goods on Amazon .com and EBay for a year before launching the website in January.

His venture is percolating now. Arat is loath to invite competitors by disclosing too much but said he expected to reach $250,000 in sales by the end of next year. He speaks of a market potential in the “tens of millions,” envisioning a cezve in every U.S. kitchen.

The market for Turkish coffee is growing, he said, because of customers like Alicia Watins, 42, a Long Island technology consultant. She and her husband, Michael, have never been to Turkey but they love the Turkish coffee served in New York restaurants.

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As a gift to Michael, she bought a set from Arat’s site. “Before I bought, I researched through the Internet and talked with several” vendors, she said. “I had no idea what to buy.” But Arat “guided us all the way.”

Arat said his last three orders came from Australia, Lithuania and a U.S. Marine base. He’s getting traffic from Chile, South Korea and China.

“I get a lot of orders from the U.S. military, probably because they are discovering Turkish coffee in the Gulf and Iraq,” he said. “They usually buy my most expensive items.”

As his business has grown, Arat has experimented with packaging to lower shipping costs. He’s mastered how to get paid online and handle currency fluctuations. He’s also tinkering with Internet advertising.

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And he’s still learning strategies so Google, Yahoo and other search engines bring up his site at the top of their list of results. Once prospects get to him, he wants to know how long they stay, where they come from and what kind of technology they use. So he’s studying Web analytics.

His site gets its largest share of visitors from the U.S., which drinks more coffee than any other country. And he believes Turkish coffee will be the hot new consumer choice -- so fervently that he chose Nextrend Marketing as his company’s legal name.

“Many people think that the Turkish coffee is a special blend that is only grown in Turkey, so it has to be exported and bought separately,” he said.

But the name actually describes a method of making the brew, which the Ottomans perfected by roasting coffee beans and grinding them to powder. They spread the drink across Europe and the world.

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“You can make Turkish coffee from any type of coffee you buy as long as it has been ground to a fine powder,” Arat explained. “And every major grocery store in the U.S. has a grinder with a ‘Turkish coffee’ setting.”

The process demands the cezve, a pot with a narrowing neck necessary to make the vital foam. His cezves are hand-hammered, etched with elaborate designs, then polished and hand-painted by artisans in Turkey and Bosnia. His fincans -- the tiny traditional cups -- are hand-painted in Turkey. He buys coffee from Bosnia, Croatia, Greece and Turkey.

In other brewing methods, water or steam is forced through the coffee. The Turkish method mixes the grounds into the brew. Arat says this makes Turkish coffee the most natural, flavorful and, he contends, healthy.

“Recent studies done on cafestol [a molecule with anti-carcinogenic properties] showed that it is present in the highest quantity in unfiltered coffee drinks, such as French press coffee or Turkish coffee,” he said.

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Turkish coffee also carries another bounty: its requirement to socialize.

“You have to sit down first before you even take a sip,” Arat said. “Otherwise, due to the small cups it’s served in, it will spill on you. This is probably another reason why it is traditionally shared with others.”

He recited a Turkish proverb on the role of drinking with another: “The memory of sharing even a single cup of coffee will last for 40 years.”

“This is a new way of drinking coffee,” said Joanna Basko, 70, a retiree in Birmingham, Ala., and a regular at Arat’s website. “It is fun to prepare it and serve it in little cups. . . . And the taste is great.”

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She and her husband, Roy, first tasted Turkish coffee on a visit to the country in 2006. Then she found Arat’s site and started ordering. When she felt comfortable making the drink -- the website features instructional videos -- she shared it with friends.

“Turkish coffee is sort of catching on in central Alabama,” she said.

Such enthusiasm is generating more business for Arat from wholesalers, such as Oakland-based Sweet Maria’s, one of the largest green coffee bean distributors and a major player in the home roasting industry. Coffee shops, too, are becoming his regular customers.

“Most coffee shops these days,” he said, “are searching for unique products to offer.” Some shops buy from him and serve Turkish coffee at customers’ tables using a small burner.

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“People are tired of the espresso and the milkshake-like coffee drinks. They are not unique anymore,” he said. “Even the gas stations sell these.”

As for Turkish coffee, “I think that once people taste it,” he said, “they will come back for more.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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Using his bean

Business: Nextrend Marketing sells the means for making Turkish coffee through www.turkishcoffeeworld.com.

Owner: Mustafa Arat

Revenue: Arat expects to reach $250,000 next year.

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How to: For a video demonstration on making Turkish coffee, go to latimes.com/coffeeworld.


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