Turkish Tea: Tradition and Hospitality
Turkish tea cups
During a week to Istanbul this past Easter my family and I experienced the wonderful hospitality of the Turks. As a daily tea drinker, I was delighted to discover that Turkish hospitality included offering everyone a cup of çay, (CHAH-yee) in a traditional gesture of friendliness and welcome. Every store that we walked into merchants graciously offered us a cup of the nation’s steaming hot brew. The fragrant aroma of the hot black tea served in delightful tulip shaped glass cups created a relaxing environment while we learned from the Turks how to choose priceless antique Oriental carpets. Our children were given a caffeine free version of Turkish tea, a tart apple flavored drink that they loved adding sugar cubes to and stirring with the tiny tea spoons. Everywhere we went we saw people sipping tea from beautiful glass cups. We even spotted two policemen balancing tea cups on saucers as they kept a watchful eye on people getting on and off the city buses near the historic Grand Bizarre.
Tea is grown in Turkey along the mountainous Black Sea region. The climate there is mild with plenty of rain and fertile fields to permit productive tea growth. Tea became an attractive alternative to Turkish coffee during World War I, when it became expensive and hard to get. Tea production is a recent occurrence in Turkey with the first plantations starting in 1924 in the Rize Province as an answer to the high cost of importing coffee.
Turkish tea is very strong and served boiling hot in lovely tulip shaped glasses. To drink it hot, when it is at its best flavor, you must hold onto the rim of the tea cup to avoid burns. However the delicious tea cools quickly in the small tea cups and can then be savored at more leisurely sips. Many çayci (CHAH-yee-jee, tea-waiter) can be seen everywhere in the bustling Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaar, scurrying about with hot tea on serving trays, anxious to deliver the tea to a hospitable merchant’s customers. Çay Bahcesi or tea gardens are found all over Turkey and are the local’s favorite way to enjoy a pot of tea.
Traditionally, Turkish tea is brewed using a çaydanlık or stacked teakettle. A small teapot is affixed atop of a boiling tea kettle. Some boiling water from the teakettle is poured into the teapot then tea is added. Brewing is accomplished by letting the teapot heat from the steam of the teakettle. Hot tea is then poured into the tulip shaped glasses ¾ full and then diluted to the desired strength with hot water from the tea kettle. Tea is always served with a cube or two of sugar, but Turks never add milk or lemon.
To enjoy your own cup of delicious Turkish tea without a çaydanlık follow these directions:
- Use tea leaves that have been stored in sealed packaging and kept away from humidity and odors.
- Use fresh filtered spring water and a clean tea kettle and porcelain tea pot.
- Rinse your tea kettle and teapot with water, and then fill with tea kettle with water.
- Place one teaspoon of tea into the tea kettle per cup of water while the water is boiling.
- Turn the heat to low and allow tea kettle to boil for 10 minutes.
- Remove teakettle from heat and allow tea to steep for 5 minutes.
- Transfer tea to teapot.
- Pour tea into tea cups and serve with sugar cubes.