The country gave its name to Turkish coffee, but don’t be surprised to see more people sipping tea. Turkey has the highest tea consumption in the world, at an average of 6.96 pounds per person every year – while the famously tea-loving British drink only a measly 4.28 pounds. So it’s clear that the drink is never far away in Istanbul, with portable samovars wheeled into parks, tea-sellers carrying wobbling trays on Bosphorus ferries, and teashops on the corner of every street. But if you want the real, leisurely tea experience, there are some locations that stand out for their beauty and atmosphere.
Named after the French writer who spent many years in Istanbul, the hill of Pierre Loti offers an enchanting view of the Golden Horn while you sip on tea at his eponymous cafe. Visitors wanting a little exercise can climb past the beautiful Eyüp Sultan Mosque and through the hillside graveyards to the top. Alternatively, the cable car offers a more comfortable ascent. The café tends to be busy on weekends and public holidays.
A few minutes away from Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence is a small passage with a Turkish star and crescent made of light bulbs above the door. You wouldn’t guess it from outside, but this passage leads to a delightful tea garden. The building, which was once a French orphanage, is now the Zanaat Atelye, Cafe & Carton-Pierre Museum. It is worth visiting the museum to see the carton-pierre moldings that have been saved from buildings such as Dolmabahçe Palace. In the tea garden, you are sheltered on all sides from the busy city, with chickens clucking in the vegetable patch nearby.
Çengelköy epitomizes what many people love about the Asian side of Istanbul: a more relaxed pace, fewer crowds, and beautiful locations where one can stop and soak in the Bosphorus view. Tarihi Çınaraltı Aile Çay Bahçesi is right on the water in Çengelköy, named after the old sycamore trees that shade the wooden tables. The café’s tea comes straight from the Black Sea province of Rize, whose product is famous across Turkey for its flavor.
On the Western corner of the Süleymaniye Mosque complex is a sunken tea garden, secluded from the city by rustic walls and shaded by tall trees. This is the Lalezar Çay Bahçesi, whose historic feel and excellent tea make it the best place to relax when visiting the mosque – one of master architect Mimar Sinan’s most graceful creations. There is no trace of cars or crowds in this tea garden, only plentiful brews, wisps of nargile smoke, and falling leaves.