If you’re considering visiting Turkey or buying a second home in Turkey, you’ll want to understand the importance of tea to Turks. Tea is much more than a drink in Turkey. In large cities and small villages, tea is used to welcome guests, to confirm friendships and sometimes to simply enjoy Turkey’s incredible sunsets.
Tea in Turkey is not an ancient ritual, but rather started in the 1930’s. The Turkish government decreed that tea should be grown as an export crop in the fertile soils all across the country. Soon after, Turkey bought tons and tons of tea seeds from the nation of Georgia and tea nurseries were developed. In that time, tea was more than a crop. It was a source of national pride and the Turks worked hard to develop teas that the world would love. Turkish tea was dark and full-bodied, almost more like coffee in colour and consistency. Today, Turkey is one of the five largest tea producers in the world.
Along the way, Turks started drinking tea. Today, the nation consumes more tea than any other beverage other than water and Turkish tea is loved in every corner of the world. From the oldest known national brand, Caykur to new startups, Turkish tea is loved by millions around the world.
Although a good cup of Turkish tea starts with great tea leaves, the preparation is what turns tea into an event. You should use fresh water and you will often see bottled water used in small cafes because water is everything to a cup of tea.
If you haven’t seen a Turkish teapot, you’ll know one when you see it. It looks like a smaller teapot nested on top of a larger teapot. The lower and larger pot is where the water is heated. The upper teapot is where the tea is steeped. Initially, a lot of heat is used to boil the bottom pot’s water. Then, some of the water is added to the upper pot containing the tea leaves and the heat is turned down very low. After about 15 minutes, the tea is ready for all to enjoy. Once the tea is properly boiled, it is poured into your cup and boiling water from the lower pot is added. The typical mix is one-third tea to two-thirds water, but you may add more water or more tea as your taste decides.
The Turkish tea experts know a few tricks for creating the best possible cup of tea. First, they only used excellent tea leaves. A simple way to test a tea leaf for quality is to float it in a cup of cold water. If the water changes colour very slowly, you have a good tea. Turks are also almost fanatical about avoiding bitterness and they focus on using just the right amount of heat for just the right amount of time. Over boiling or using too much heat is a recipe for a bitter cup of tea.
Also, although it may seem odd to you, refrain from stirring the cup of tea once the water is added. Turkish tea experts believe that the tea and water should naturally and slowly mix together, adding to the slow enjoyable tea experience.
You will probably notice that tea won’t stay at your table for long. Tea that is older than a half hour is usually replaced because the freshness and body start to break down and the tea may become bitter.
As your tea is being served, you’ll notice that Turkish tea cups don’t have handles and are usually clear with a small plate underneath. If it happens to be your turn to serve, remember this lack of handles and don’t fill the teacup to the brim, but rather leave a little space. This space is where you pick up a Turkish teacup with two fingers. If you fill up the entire cup, this space will be very, very hot. A cup of sugar cubes is often served beside the teacup, but adding sugar to the tea by anyone other than the person drinking the cup is very bad form.
In Turkey, tea is consumed slowly in small sips. In the entire Turkish tea experience, the guiding word is slow. Turks don’t grab a cup of tea and run for the door as this would be considered rude.
If you are guest, your host will continue making and serving tea until you feel like you are floating in a sea of tea. To properly thank your host, but decline more tea, simply place your spoon across the teacup. With this, you are saying, “thank you for your excellent tea, but I couldn’t possibly consume another drop.” Turks see this as a compliment, particularly if you continue to sit and enjoy your company.
Tea is consumed in every Turkish climate and location. Hot sunny days are not a reason to put the teapot away in Turkey, so you’ll be served tea even at the many extraordinary Turkish beach resorts.
Tea is also served throughout the day, although the proper “tea time” is during the later afternoon prior to dinner. Turkish workers are given two official tea breaks during their workday.
If you want to enjoy the complete Turkish tea experience, search out a tea garden. These quiet spaces are often covered with trellis and vines and surrounded by lush plants and flowers. Ask a few locals wherever in Turkey you might be and they will point you to their favourite tea gardens.
So, as your explore the many amazing regions of Turkey, from the beaches to Istanbul, be sure to stop along the way, slow down and enjoy a cup of tea. Enjoy the Turkish tea experience with all of its traditions. The only way you can make a mistake is to refuse a cup of tea in the first place.
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