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Turkish coffee talk

Proud of his homeland's namesake brew, Mustafa Arat proselytizes about it, and sells it, on the Web

August 18, 2008|Utku Cakirozer | 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, 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.

"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.

"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.

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.

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.

"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.

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