Before you go abroad, people boast about how the experiences will be nothing like anything you have ever had before. But as I sat in Walter’s Coffee Roastery, a Breaking Bad-themed cafe in Istanbul, Turkey, I felt a strange sense of home, as if I was sitting at my favorite coffee shop in Newport drinking a vanilla latte.
“Breaking Bad,” is a popular TV show about a chemistry teacher, Walter White, and former student producing and selling crystal meth. Walter’s Coffee Roastery in Kadikoy, Istanbul pays tribute to Walter White by creating a themed coffee shop, enchanting fans of the TV show worldwide.
Our Walter’s Coffee Roastery trip begins like all of our trips through Asia; four obnoxiously loud Americans attempting to maneuver our way through Istanbul, a city we are modestly familiar with. We take a 20 minute bus ride from our University home base of Rumeli Hisarustu, to the seaport of Besiktas, catching the ferry towards Kadikoy on the Asian side of Istanbul.
While a literal and symbolic journey, the ferry ride to Asian Istanbul is always a calm ride. As you ride along the Bosporus alongside hundreds of others making the voyage, often you hear men with odd instruments playing live music, sounds of cay (the Turkish word for “tea”) glasses being collected and fidgety children who can’t wait to leave the confines of the ship.
In less than an hour we’ve completed the journey from Europe to Asia. It’s here that we discover an unsettling taste of home with Walter’s Coffee Roastery.
Given the easy accessibility to restaurants and businesses in Istanbul by either public transportation or foot, we choose to walk to Walter’s Roastery. A minimalist “W: Walter’s Coffee Roastery” in a sea of Turkish named stores indicated that we had arrived to the Turkish Portola Coffee Lab. I could already hear talk of Instagram filters and hashtags, to ensure the proper aesthetic was captured.
As we enter the glass-encased coffee shop, immediately the theme of Breaking Bad appears in all corners of the shop. Beakers decorate the coffee counter and a periodic table lines a large wall on the first floor, with the elements perfectly chalked on to the wall. On the second floor, visible immediately upon entry, was a room with a large “meth machine,” with large yellow hazmat suits for customers to vicariously live as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
The shop was filled to the brim, with the soft sound of laughter in this energetic, yet calm, cafe. Much to our surprise, we were able to understand some of what was going on – since there was a good amount of English spoken by both employees and customers. While in Istanbul some people do speak English, just because they can speak it doesn’t mean they will. But not once did we have to use sign language or hand gestures to communicate, which felt wrong.
Given the full embrace of the Breaking Bad theme, I expected their drinks to have a similar influence. When we received our menus, however, the drink selection was disappointing. With a small selection of espresso drinks, the typical latte, macchiato, espresso and tea drinks, the coffee did not warrant a trip to Asia. Since I was sick, I opted for a green tea while my friends dabbled in the other tea selection, earl grey, and the espresso drinks.
The latte came as a large glass of milk, with two accompanying espresso shots in actual shot glasses. As you pour the espresso into the cup, you essentially created your own World of Color show for about nine lira, or three dollars.
After the coffee, my avid Breaking Bad friends chose to dress up in the costumes. They were bright yellow hazmat suits and posed pose next to a large ‘meth’ machine. Dressing up in the costumes is half the appeal of the cafe, and after going is the only appeal in my opinion. Bins of coffee beans are in the room with the machine, and suits and masks complete the experience of visiting the cafe.
While for an avid Breaking-Bad fan, the appeal is obvious, as a study abroad student in Istanbul the environment was too comfortable. The “hipster” vibe was very reminiscent of the number of independent coffee shops I know, and love, back home.
Much of my experience in Istanbul has required that I push myself beyond levels of comfort and challenged me in new environments. While Walter’s Coffee Roastery was a wonderful experience, even more so for Breaking Bad fans, in the realm of an Istanbul experience it isn’t one that I see myself remembering a year from now.
Most of the charm in this city lies in being able to start every day knowing that I will have a new experience. Whether it’s accidentally getting on a bus to the Asian side of Istanbul or asking where is the “women” instead of the “women’s bathroom,” these have all been crucial in shaping my experience in another country. It’s the uncomfortable that make for the best stories, and unfortunately Walter’s was too reminiscent for my liking.