Updated: Dec 28, 2020
It is a surprise to know that Turks love their tea as much as they love their coffee. Tea is an indispensable part of Turkish culture. Men, women, family, and friends often meet in teahouses and tea gardens in their towns and villages to interact and share conversations over a cup of tea. When you traverse the Turkish streets, you can see it all around. Everybody is sitting around sipping it. It is hot, it is red, and it is Turkish tea! Tea is drunk around the country as if it is an elixir of life - magic potion meant to bring calmness to your life!
If you are an avid tea drinker or an enthusiast obsessed with tea, then you would definitely love to know about this Turkish obsession. This post covers all the aspects of the tea culture in Turkey. And it is always good to know about things you love, especially if it has roots and different histories spread all across the globe.
So, let’s get started.
History of Tea in Turkey
While Turkey is popular around the world as a coffee-drinking nation, known for its thick, creamy, and sweet Turkish coffee, the consumption of tea has grown over the last century, playing a vital role in the country’s social practices. Thanks to the chain of circumstances that occurred in the first quarter of the 20th century, tea truly claimed the significant position it presently holds in the nation. In the aftermath of WW1 when the Ottoman Empire fell, Turkey lost control of its vital coffee-generating territories within its south-eastern provinces. It resulted in coffee becoming insanely expensive to purchase on a massive scale that the Turks previously had no issue with.
So, they started looking for an alternate beverage to quench their thirst with. Ataturk, Turkey’s leader at that time, encouraged the citizens to go with a beverage option that had previously been associated with its neighbouring nations in the West. At that time, Atartuk believed that there are two benefits of adapting to tea. The first one was obviously that tea could be easily grown commercially in the country, and the second one was that it would make Turkey a secularised nation. Ataturk saw a big picture here as he wanted to Westernise Turkey.
As a result, people in Turkey started to embrace their new drink. This was the beginning of Turkey’s love affair with tea. Since then, the love of tea for Turkish people has not lessened a bit.
Tea Production in Turkey
Turkey is among the top five tea-producing countries in the whole world, growing 6-10% of world tea. Surprised? What’s more fascinating is that the majority of tea that the nation produces is consumed within the borders of Turkey itself! This makes Turkey one of the significant tea consumers on the planet, a bit ahead of the UK.
Tea in Turkey is grown at a commercial scale in the north in the Rize province along the Black Sea coastline. The tea gardens stretch eastward along the shoreline and all the way to the Georgia border. Rize experiences a mild climate all throughout the year, having fertile soil and high rainfall levels. As a result, Turkey produces strong, flavourful black tea. Based on the climate, tea is harvested four times a year, starting from the month of May.
Preparation of Turkish Black Tea
The method used to prepare black tea in Turkey appears to be unusual even though they might seem quite similar to the western taste buds. The tea is prepared using a special teapot, known as ‘Caydanlik.’ It is a stacked, double teapot where the tea leaves are steeped in the smaller upper teapot, as the water boils in the lower teapot.
This way of making tea allows you to serve it in varying strengths. For example, if you prefer your tea to be less diluted and strong, you can sip a dark brew, poured from the upper teapot. And if you prefer a more subtle flavour with a less intense aroma, you can dilute your tea to varying levels by simply adding hot water from the lower teapot.
If you visit a Turkish restaurant, you can see how they prepare their tea.
How do Turks take their Tea?
This is where things get exciting. Unlike your traditional teapot and cup, Turks prefer small, tulip-shaped glasses. They are not only beautiful-looking glass cups, but you can actually see your hot red tea through the glass. So much tea is consumed through these delicate yet beautiful glass vessels that annually 400 million of such glasses are sold in Turkey. And not only tea, but these tea glasses have also become a symbol of perfection that people use them as a tool of measurement for different cooking recipes.
The origin of these tulip-shaped tea glasses is yet to be discovered, but the reason why they are made of glass is that it allows the drinkers to appreciate the rich, reddish-brown colour of Turkish tea.
Another thing that makes Turkish tea different from other nations’ tea is that the Turks prefer their tea without milk. Nevertheless, they add some sugar for sweetness. What’s interesting is that some people do not add sugar directly into their teacups. Instead, they place the sugar cube between their cheek and tongue. And with each hot sip, the sugar gets dissolved. This is a unique way of drinking tea that is only practised in Turkey.
On the other hand, you will also see the teahouses in Turkey, serving lemon with tea. The zing of lemon adds a distinct punch to the strong crimson tea.
For Turkish people, tea is a valued part of life, and they take their tea seriously. What starts with breakfast is continued throughout the day. Drinking tea together is considered a token of friendship in the country. And the best part is that tea breaks in office workplaces are legally mandated. This tells the importance of tea in Turkish culture.