Tea Culture and Tea Traditions of Turkey
Tea Culture of
Turkey is where the East meets the West; its capital Istanbul boasts of the scenic Bosphorus Bridge, which connects Asia and Europe. Besides the beautifully woven carpets, hammam (Turkish baths), and bustling bazaars, tea is a crown jewel of the country and has a very special place in all Turks’ hearts.
Turkey is well known for their love of Tea. Statistics show that a single Turk consumes an average of 3.16 kgs of tea per year, placing them at the top among all other countries. Sri Lanka is the leading supplier of tea to Turkey, proudly owning a 76% share of their import market.
Tea History of Turkey
Declaration of Tanzimat - an attempt to transform the country to a modern state- took place in 1839 during the Ottoman Empire. Under this initiative, agriculture was reconsidered and new crops were tried out. Tea was one of them. Seeds and saplings were imported from the far East and taxes were abolished to encourage cultivation.
After several failed attempts, the renowned agronomist Zihni Derin directed the government and public attention to grow tea, during 1919 and 1920. He worked hard on research, knowledge dissemination, and draft and enact relevant laws with regards to tea cultivation. These attempts led the land around the Black Sea coast to be successfully utilized to grow the precious beverage and is known today as Turkey’s Tea capital. At present, Turkey is the fifth largest tea producer in the world.
Types of Tea consumed in Turkey
Most of today’s Turkish tea comes from the Rize province, which is situated on the eastern side of the Black Sea coast. Known as the “tea capital” of the country, it has a cool climate and moderate temperatures that are ideal for tea cultivation. A sweet tea which is black in colour. Apple tea is actually a variant of Oralet tea although it is very popular among tourists just as Apple Tea.
Oralet is known as a “fruit tea”. It is available in various flavours such as cherry, lemon, and orange. It comespre-sweetened, therefore adding sugar is not advised.
Apart from these variants, Turkish tea is available as white, green, yellow, red and black tea. White tea is produced by steaming the young leaves, drying them in order to make the most of the flavour and smell.
Green tea is prepared by pressing, rolling and drying the leaves in addition to steaming at the beginning. Yellow tea is a result of drying the partially fermented young leaves, and red tea is produced by lightly fermenting the leaves so as not to damage them, prior to maturing it for about a year.
The famed black tea is manufactured by the traditional process of pressing, rolling, and fermentation, followed by drying. This dark, original tea brewed in kettles known as “samovars” forms the foundation of Turkey’s unique cuisine. All these teas have numerous health benefits including, but not limited to, acting as an energy booster, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agent, improving digestion while enhancing metabolism, improving memory and concentration, helping with body detoxification, regulating blood sugar, help decrease blood pressure, and being rich in antioxidants.
Tea Customs of Turkey
A well-used Turkish folk saying goes as, “a chat without tea is like a dark sky with no moon”. Tea, for the Turks, is more than a just a beverage; it is an important part of their day-to-day life. From the breakfast to in-between main meals, until bedtime, they consume this crimson drink in their tiny, tulip-shaped glasses. Offering and accepting tea is a gesture of companionship. Many a business deals have been made over a glass of tea.
Tea gardens and tea houses are quite popular in Turkey. Almost every house has a small outdoor garden where men, women and kids get-together to have a conversation over a glass of tea. There are many cookbooks featuring various pastries and sweet items which can be prepared to enjoy a good “tea time” or “çay saati”.
Tea houses are small restaurant-like establishments where mostly the men are seen to be having discussions about what’s going on in the world, or playing a boardgame while sipping tea.
Offering tea to every guest is a custom practiced in any household and bazaar. It is simply the link which ties-in everyone together, the focal point at any social event in Turkey. Offering a cup of tea is an unmistakable signal of Turkish hospitality.
Turkish tea is served in two main methods, “koyu” meaning strong and dark, or “acik” meaning weak and light. It is served with many accompaniments such as baklava or borek –famous Turkish pastries, pogaca, yogurt bundt cake made in Turky style sigara Borek, and Turkish cookies.
Tea ceremonies in Turkey
Turks have an “official” tea time, between three and five pm. However, it has not stopped them from having tea, all the time, every day!
Contrary to the solemn Japanese tea ceremonies, Turks have a way of being merry with their tea. They will gather in a tea garden or tea house, talk and laugh, while the kids run around, over pots of tea and plates of sweets. The beautiful tea gardens crowding the narrow side-streets along the strait of Bosphorus signal anyone walking by to stop and have a tea in the shade. Any house you walk in to, has a kettle ready on the stove and you are not departing before consuming at least two glasses of Turkish tea.
In the countryside, the bridal showers known as “gelin hamami” includes tea kettles and sweetmeats for the bride-to-be and her friends. It is also considered a health booster, as the tea which come from the Black Sea area is grown without applying any pesticides. It is a small wonder that this tea grows even when the area has a freezing temperature during December through February.
Tea thus plays a major part in every Turk’s life, omnipresent in every milestone along the way.
Teaware of Turkey
The famous “çaydanlık” or the Turkish tea pot is a design of two kettles, one on top of the other. Infused tea goes into the top kettle to be kept warm and water goes to the bottom one. This way, the drinker can make their own tea, just the way they like it; with more tea and a small amount of water to result in a darker, richer flavoured tea, or vice versa.
The tulip shaped glass is a unique feature in Turkish tea culture. Whilst in most cultures cups or mugs are used-rather than glasses- to serve tea, Turks have a habit utilizing these small, delicate shaped glasses. To prevent one’s hands or fingers from burning, the glasses have an outward turned rim where it can be lifted and held by. It is served resting on top of a small saucer. The pear or tulip shape of the glass allows it to be handled easily. It is manufactured in this distinctive design to have the tea remain warm for a longer time.
In some parts of Turkey, a traditional Turkish Samovar is used instead of the çaydanlık. The Turkish samovar is an extension of the famous Russian kettle of the same name. It’s arranged in the same manner as the çaydanlık, with one kettle on top of the other. Samovars come in intricate handmade designs, which are adorned in vibrant colours that are unique to Turkey.
Turks also produce Zamzam tea serving sets. They usually come with six tea cups, in the same tulip shape, and a small kettle to brew the tea in. Most of these teaware are hand-made and native to the country.