“Conversations without tea are like a night sky without the moon”.
Turkish tea is served anywhere, anytime, All. Day. Long. As you travel around Turkey, sightseeing and shopping, you can expect that several times a day you will be offered a “cay” (pronounced Chai), and almost everywhere you go – whether it be a shop, a tea garden, or a government office, you will hear the “tink tink tink” of tiny teaspoons hitting the glass as tea drinkers vigorously stir in their sugar cubes.
Most Turkish people will have their first cup of tea at breakfast time, and continue to drink it all day, right through until bed time. To drink tea together, and to offer tea is a sign of friendship. In every town or village in Turkey, you can see at least one tea garden or “cay bahcesi” – here, friends catch up, and games of backgammon are played while enjoying glass after glass of hot tea. There are also tea houses (kirathane) which are traditionally for men only, and so if you are a woman, and unsure of whether you are at a tea garden or a men-only tea house, have a look at the rest of the clientele before you enter.
Having ready available tea is of utmost importance for a business – often businesses employ someone especially to make tea, and if they don’t have a tea person, then many businesses, especially shops in the bazaar areas of Istanbul and other cities, order in cay as required from one of the many hole in the wall tea places that exist purely to serve tea to nearby businesses. Look closely as you walk through many pedestrian bazaar areas such as the Grand Bazaar or in towns such as Kusadasi, and you will see telephones attached to poles – these are not for dialing out to make a call, but rather a direct line to the tea place so that tea can quickly be summoned to the office.
Although in recent years teabags have been introduced to Turkey, these are generally sneered at by cay afficionados as making a good brew of Turkish tea is quite the art form. Visitors to Turkey may mistakenly believe that the sweet , hot apple tea served to tourists is Turkish tea, however this is not the case, with it generally being referred to as “tourist tea”, and looked down on by locals.
Turkish black tea is brewed using two stacked kettles. The brewing of a good glass of cay takes time – firstly water is boiled in the lower kettle, and then used to fill the top kettle covering a handful of loose tea leaves. The two kettles are then set back to boil for around 10-15 minutes, and the result is a very strong brew of tea that has a reddish tint to it.
When serving the tea, the small tulip shaped tea glass is filled approximately 1/3 full of tea from the top kettle, then the water from the bottom kettle is used to dilute it, according to individual preferences. You will notice that Turkish people generally specify whether they want their tea to be “demli / koyu” (dark) or acik (pronounced ah-chick) (light). When you are drinking your tea, make sure to hold your tea glass by the rim to avoid burning your fingers. If you are drinking your Turkish tea outside (ie not in your hotel), then you will have to enjoy your tea without additions such as lemon or milk as these things are simply not consumed with Turkish tea. To ask for lemon or milk with your tea will be considered strange, although many hotel breakfast buffets will provide milk or lemon if you simply cannot start your day without a dash of milk in your tea.
Surprisingly, Turkish tea is not an old tradition – its popularity grew in the 1900s, particularly after the first World War, when Turkish coffee became prohibitively expensive and in short supply. Today, it is the second most consumed drink in Turkey, after water, and with the average Turkish person consuming 2.5kg of tea per year, Turkey has the highest tea consumption per capita in the World. Turkey produces between 6 and 10% of the World’s tea, with the majority of the tea grown in the province of Rize in Turkey’s Black Sea region.
If you are planning a trip to Turkey and want to visit the Black Sea region, have a look at our Black Sea tours.