Balat Coffee & Guide: Spirit of Istanbul's historic neighborhood in good hands

Published 15.08.2017 22:40
Updated 15.08.2017 22:43
Onur (L) and Hanife (R)
Onur (L) and Hanife (R)

Balat is a popular spot for those who want to experience an authentic side of Istanbul, as new coffee shops dedicate themselves to the protection of local neighborhoods against the disturbances of modern life

Apart from 21st century sights such as shopping centers, skyscrapers and business centers, Istanbul, one of the ancient cities in the world, is also home to many old authentic sites that offer glimpses into the city's unique, ancient past. However, one can only come across these historic sights on a few back streets or on an avenue. So we stopped in Balat, the oldest neighborhood on Istanbul's historical peninsula.

There are no multi-story buildings, shopping centers, or great shops here in Balat. When you start to walk along its streets, you will see loungers sitting on the sidewalk, drinking tea, chatting with people on the street corners and listening to the voices of children playing on the streets. The houses are old, built with a maximum three floors and painted in various colors. The average income of Balat locals is not very high. The streets are full of grocery shops, as well as the shops of tailors, kitchenware, and other craftsmen. There are several synagogues and churches in the area. Balat is one of the oldest districts of Istanbul, a place where you can experience the beauty of diversity. For this reason, it is the first choice of photographers and travelers.

Recently, a third-generation coffee shop known as Balat Coffee & Guide opened up here - and this coffee shop is anything but ordinary. Balat Coffee & Guide has undertaken the incredible task of supporting the local children of the neighborhood, making that its mission. This cafe is, therefore, actually functioning as a sort of information desk, founded by three friends living in Balat and functioning as a spot where you can get detailed information about the neighborhood. When you step inside the cafe and ask for help, the managers of Balat Coffee & Guide provide you with a special map of the neighborhood. Daily Sabah sat down with Onur and Hanife, the founders of this charming place, to talk about the origins of the concept and where the idea for a coffee shop like this came from.

Hanife is also a shareholder and founder of Kimma, a Turkish coffee brand, and she treats her customers to cups of this delicious coffee roast as a barista at Balat Coffee & Guide.

The handbook and map provided by the managers of the café for those who want to explore the neighborhood.

"Kimma is a brand that was started by two female entrepreneurs. In fact, coffee is completely female-oriented, starting from the harvest of the coffee beans to the brewing. Hence, it makes us very happy to do this as two female entrepreneurs. We sell coffee and coffee beans at the coffee shop and we only offer a few kinds of desserts because I live in Balat and I do not want the neighborhood culture to be ruined," Hanife said.

Onur also works in e-commerce with Oylum, the third partner of Balat Coffee & Guide. He said that they also sell Momiji, a collection of handmade dolls which have enthusiasts all around the world. Onur and Oylum are the distributors of Momiji in Turkey. On the other hand, they are interested in photography and they are entirely Balat lovers.

"We wanted to establish a place where people can stop and take a breath as well as have a help desk while we were creating Balat Coffee & Guide. So, we offer a few desserts alongside affordable, high-quality coffee. If our guests want a cup of tea or toast, we order these from the nearby shopkeeper. Additionally, this place contributes to the artisans of Balat. We opened this place in the neighborhood and do not want to disturb the identity of this place," Onur said.

Balat Coffee & Guide's support for the neighborhood is not limited to the above. The venue also offers Balat tours for photography enthusiasts, photo and coffee workshops and evening chats. For example, you can photograph the historic streets dotted with colorful houses, with a guide provided by this lovely coffee shop in Balat.

The best part of this tour is that your fees go towards education projects for the local children of the neighborhood. The founders of Balat Coffee & Guide work with the Community Volunteers' Foundation (TOG). The entire fee for the tour is donated here and the participants receive a donation receipt. This also applies to all other workshops and evening chats. If you want to volunteer and get to know the Balat locals while enjoying a delicious cup of coffee, you should check out Balat Coffee & Guide.

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