One might think that the Turks mostly drinks coffee. That’s at least, what I often hear, and also thought myself, until I got there and saw how widespread the tea-culture is. Coffee is certainly popular, but not nearly as much as a good cup of black tea, which is enjoyed by any excuse.
Çay as it is called in Turkish, is almost described as a national-drink (besides Raki, which certainly is popular too) and are enjoyed by young and old. Been to Turkey, you can not fail to notice the many tea houses (çay evleri) and the gardens (çay bahcesi), which primarily is respectivily for men and women, although it is not so sharply divided nowadays. These gardens and houses are very popular and used as social meeting places equal to the “cafe culture” back home. Here is the chatter, the agreements and the latest gossip, while one sitting and enjoying the warm, sweet tea often accompanied with nuts, sunflower seeds and cake.
From Turkish coffee to Turkish black tea
The Turks have not always been so diligent tea-drinkers, as they are now (it is in fact estimated, that every Turk drink, equivalent to 2.5 kg of tea every year !!). Like so much else, the rise of the tea was due to the increase in coffee-prices. This was after the first World War, when the Ottoman Empire fell apart and lost important – coffee-producing – areas down south. Therefore, in particular urged by Atatürk, one should drink tea instead of coffee (Turkey had started the production some years earlier).
In 1965 Turkey produced so much black tea, that they could start exporting. Today Turkey produces staggering 210,000 tons, of which they keep about 120,000 tons for themselves. This means, that Turkey is at the top 5 list of tea-producing countries and that they drink more tea than in England. Yes, who would have thought that ??
It’s a culture
I must admit, that I absolutely love the strong and sweet drink – especially when I am in Turkey. And one can hardly avoid it. You have probably tried to get a glass of piping hot tea in your hand, when you are out shopping during your holiday in Turkey. But it tastes so different from back home (perhaps because I never drink black tea at home, and perhaps because it’s absolutely mandatory to use sugar – something I would never do at home 😉). That it is always served piping hot in beautiful tulip-shaped glasses, with saucer and the cutest little spoon, certainly contribute to the pleasure.
And I wonder, if you also at one time or another have fallen in love with the cute glasses with the characteristic tulip shape? The shape of the glasses is believed to origin from the Ottomans era, where tulips were at the height of fashion and bulbs were traded (and priced) like gold. So it’s allright to insist, that this concept is very Turkish. I bought these tea-glasses as the first thing, when we moved in together in our first little apartment (I naturally bought them in Turkey and brought them home in my handluggage). Complete crazy according to my husband! I still have them here 16 years after, and they are much cherish with their beautiful gold edge. They are only used once in a while, when we make a pot of Turkish tea.
Did you know that each year there are sold more than 400 million tulip glasses? This corresponds to approximately 6 glasses for each Turk every year!!
One might think, that Turkish and Japanese tea culture have a lot in common, with their traditions and cute little houses and gardens. But no. While in Japan, the ceremony is so peaceful and quiet and tranquil an experience as possible, it is the direct opposite in Turkey – an opportunity to get together and talk and laugh. Often they meet in the parks for a cup of tea in the morning, after school or work, or come here with their family after dinner and enjoy the entertainment, performances or music, while the children play.
Tourist-tea = apple-tea
The town of Rize is the great exponent of the production of tea. But in reality it is grown on a large stretch of the hillsides along the Black Sea coast. Here the climate is ideal for growing. It is estimatet, that nearly half of the adult population are involved in tea-manufacturing process some way or another.
While Turks drink the original black tea and blend it after their taste with lots of sugar, the tourists is somehow happier with the sweet/sour apple tea. The Turks could never dream of even drinking this apple tea as it has nothing to do with real turkish black tea. It is basically just a lot of sugar and flavorings assembled into a powder to be dissolved in hot water. But admitted – it actually tastes pretty good. I particularly like the slightly acidic variant (sometimes you can choose between the slightly sour, the sweet or the pomegranate-tea). But the apple tea is a real “tourist-tea” which is offered all tourists, if one ex. is bargaining in the gold shop or at the more commercial (touristic) bazaars. There is always a boy, who runs around with a tray with tea just within whitle-distance.
One can also get a variety of fruit-tea with more or less fortunate flavor compositions. It’s particularly rose hip, plum, cherry, chamomile, sage and orange, which is popular among Turks. Much of it can be bought in supermarkets or as more or less fresh at the bazaar (as you eg. can find here).
Çaydanlik, samovar or just tea jug
Perhaps you have noticed, that the tea is made in a rather special two-part tea-pot. It’s actually not that complicated to make. Adding water in the lower part of the pot, as well as water and about 2 tablespoons of black tea in the upper part (sometimes you just add water to the top, when the bottom is boiling). It must then boil for about 10-15 minutes, and it is ready to be served. The advantage of this is quite clear, that one can determine the strength based on how much water you mix in. I have more than once had tea, that was so strong, that I simply became physically ill from it. So no black tea on a empty stomach for me. Fill the cup with about 1/3 of black tea and the rest with water, then it will not be too strong (this is another benefit of the beautiful glasses – you can enjoy the beautiful amber / mahogany color and can easily check how strong it is). If the tea is too old or has been cooking for too long, it becomes bitter. You know it, when you taste it.
Tea is always served with two pieces of sugar (never milk) and nuts, sunflower seeds or a small cake.
If you are interested in hearing lectures or read more about tea, you may visit the page http://www.teainturkey.com.