I’ve always thought I could sum up my admiration of tea by telling people my favourite song – Binnie Hale’s ‘A nice cup of tea’. I figured the British as a nation could easily be defined by their drinking of tea - Not managing to entirely wake until you drank that morning brew, not being able to cope with the incessantly talking, 4 cat owning colleague until all your senses disappear into that first steaming sip of tea. We drink tea when something goes wrong and like ol’ binnie says – ‘when it’s time for bed, there’s a lot to be said for a nice cup of tea’.
We British – well we like tea. What I didn’t know however is just one place behind us on the ‘per capita’ league of tea consumption is Turkey. Like the Brits, the Turks love their çay, but when it comes to tea, drinking quantity and frequency is one of very few similarities between the British and the Turkish because, in Turkey, teatime is a science, an art and a philosophy.
Turkey grows and produces its own tea to the north of the country in the Black Sea region, a black tea leaf which produces a ruby red colour when brewed. That rosy colour and the tulip shape tea glass called ‘ İnci belli bardak – a thin belly glass’ to me is the beauty of Turkish tea, when you look at it you see nothing but Turkey, The tulip shape may remind of you of Turkey’s history - the ‘Tulip era’ of Sultan Ahmed III reign, the textile and carpet industries adorning their wares with pattern after pattern of tulips, maybe you’ll flashback to visiting the tulip gardens in the golden horn area of Istanbul or simply the Turkish tourism board’s logo featured on adverts worldwide. For me, the earthy rose colour of the tea represents the blood of Turkey, the prominent Turkish flag, hot summers on the balcony with friends and more recently cold winter evenings in front of the tv.
Çay is offered to you in shops, offices and no home in Turkey is without it, on the hundreds of visits I’ve made with the MIL to friends and relatives and when she, in turn, receives those in her home I took part in the art that is tea drinking. I’ve always enjoyed this part of visits, taking note of the depth of the tones of the tea, (should I serve it so strong/ so weak?) Noting to myself the time I saw the tea glasses warmed with hot water before the liquid gold was poured in, whether an electric or stovetop ‘çaydanlık’, is used and the different ways in which the exceptionally small but prettily decorated teaspoons are placed either in the glass or upon the small often mismatched saucer. See tea here is simply, always offered and never refused.
Turkish tea glasses come in different sizes, and shapes but always for guests, the inci belli bardak is used. Often adorned with delicate patterns and etching the guest will receive the best glasses of the house. One of our first kitchen purchases was a box of 11 – yes 11 glasses we found reduced in Kipa, meh we can ignore the missing one – 11 is more than enough we naively thought..... We were wrong, on one visit to our house the MIL asked, ‘How many tea glasses do you have my girl?’, ‘On bir’ I smile, proudly boasting about our reduced find. ‘11?’ She exclaimed, ‘you need more’! holding my small, thin, pattern free glasses up to the light – ‘good ones’ she adds, ‘no problem’ she says, ‘alacağım’ – I’ll buy some!. No need, around seven, are simply gathering dust I think.....’Ok, Thank you’ I say! – to date I have received a further 18. Six purchased by my husband's father when he heard I only had 11 in the house!
Turkish tea like its drinking is brewed very slowly using a teapot and kettle combination called a çaydanlık. Like the glasses there is an overwhelming availability of choices - electric, stove top, stainless steel, porcelain, plain, patterned and just like the tea leaves, there’s budget and there’s extravagant. With two parts, one for the boiling water and one for the tea brewing the whole process is a simple yet effective one. With still no idea of which brand to buy I leave the purchasing to the hubby, who makes a fantastic blend by adding Earl Grey. The process starts by boiling water in the bottom part of the teapot, the tea leaves good-naturedly waiting in the upper part. When boiled the water joins the tea leaves in the ‘teapot’ part. We use a strainer to hold the tea and I’ve learnt over time that my bitter tea comes from my British desire to stir, stir, stir. Further water is added to the bottom ‘kettle’ part and the tea is left too steep for 20 or so minutes.
No respectful Turk would be seen at breakfast without tea, if you go for a village breakfast you can be sure a complimentary pot of tea will be put on to your table before you even get the chance to ask, tea is seen in restaurants served after your meal and with cakes, biscuits and börek - Turkish pastries should you visit someone’s home. We purchased our house during the summer when the streets are full of overheated Turks perched on the balcony desperately wishing for a breeze to cool them off, visiting our home-to-be as we prepared it for moving into after the wedding one of the first sounds we noted echoing down our street and into our empty property was the familiar clink-clink-clink of teaspoon against glass as our soon to be neighbours sugared their teas. This sound replicated by no other can be heard as you pass any one of the thousands of kahvehane’s - Turkish coffee shops bursting with okey playing men young and old.
Turkish tea, is rarely drunk alone, çay is a more than a drink, it’s a shared activity, it’s when housewives share their woes, laughter and secrets of the kitchen. It’s when families come together sharing food at the table. Should you visit a large park on a late summers evening you can guarantee you’ll see families congregated together, maybe on one of the park’s tables, benches or on blanket brought from home, they may be eating hot food, cold food, rapidly nibbling away at a bag full of seeds or they may have no food at all, but there one thing you can guarantee that they’ll have, a semaver, a larger teapot of çay. Young, old, male, female, doctor, student, plumber, lawyer, large family or small, if there is one thing every Turk shares – it’s a love for tea.
How To Make Turkish Tea
A çaydanlık (Turkish two tear teapot - these come in stove & electric versions)
3 tablespoons of loose Turkish tea
Sugar as desired
Also recommended friends & family
Add water to the bottom tier (enough to fill top tear once boiled)
Add 3 tsp of tea to the top tier
Put çaydanlık onto a medium burner until water has boiled.
Once boiled add to the water to the top tier, trying to pour into only one area, the tea leaves will sit on top.
Add more water to the bottom tier and but the çaydanlık back onto the medium burner until reboiled.
One bottom tier has boiled carefully more the çaydanlik to the smallest burner and leave the tea to settle.
*if you feel the water is boiling a little to rapidly you can open the mouth of the teapot to slow it down*
When (most) of the tea leaves have sunk to the bottom the tea is ready to serve.
Prepare/ warm glasses (optional). Add a little hot water into a glass give it a swirl and then pour into the next glass. Repeat in each glass and then toss pour into the sink.
Add tea from the top tier into the glasses (amount here determines the strength of tea)
Top up with water from the bottom tier.
Serve with a bowl of sugar cubes and teaspoon for each drinker.
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