Turkish passion for hospitality and tea, which goes hand-in-hand when hosting friends and family, is widely known. Tulip-shaped cups of the brew are found on tables and in hosting rooms around the country.
Not only do Turks consume the beverage in record numbers, but they produce it as well. As of January 2017, Turkey was the fifth-largest tea growing country in the world, only behind India, China, Kenya, and Sri Lanka, with the majority of tea produced being consumed domestically. Much of it is produced in Rize, a region on the Black Sea coast with a mild climate with high levels of precipitation and fertile soil, making it ideal for growing Turkey’s famous black tea.
Hospitality: tea served with love
Turkey’s love of tea is strong. People across the country love their tulip cup of çay, or tea, and the drink is ubiquitous in cafes, restaurants, and homes. In fact, Turks consume the most tea per capita, with a 2014 study showing that Turkey’s average annual per capita tea consumption was seven pounds per person, significantly above second-place Ireland’s 4.8 pounds per person.
Turks, who pride themselves on hospitality, use tea when hosting guests as means to form a connection between companions. Each sip, warming the body and strengthening the soul, gives drinkers a chance to unite. In fact, the tulip-shaped glass used for Turkish tea, often served with two sugar cubes, has become synonymous with Turkish hospitality. The stirring process with continuous clinks ending in glasses held by the edge for a loud sip, generally with the little finger lifted, is one of Istanbul’s most common sights.
Depending on how it is served, there are different tastes that come from the same tea leaf. A common way is to make it on a çaydanlık, which is a kettle with two pots; the bottom pot for water, and the top for brewing tea. How much you put in each depends on how you like your tea, koyu (strong and dark), or açık (light and weak).
Tea around the world
There are different types of teas produced in different regions of the world, all with different properties and health benefits. Black tea, which is the kind produced and consumed in Turkey, is the most common. Green tea is the cleanest with the most antioxidants, white is the purest and least processed, and oolong is sweet with a flavorful aroma. Herbal tea, while not technically tea as it is not from a tea leaf, is also popular, and includes subgenres such as fruit tea, rooibos tea from South Africa, and yerba mate from Latin America.
Know your leaves
• Health benefits: energy-booster and rich in antioxidants
• Processing: steaming of young leaves, drying
• Health benefits: improves memory and concentration, regulates blood sugar, increases metabolism, and decreases blood pressure
• Processing: steaming, pressing, rolling and drying
• Health benefits: helps detoxify the body
• Processing: unfinished fermentation of young leaves, drying
• Health benefits: improves digestion, increases digestive enzymes and boosts metabolism
• Processing: light fermentation that does not damage the leaves, maturing for around a year
• Health benefits: strengthens teeth and boosts energy, and it is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial
• Processing: pressing, rolling, fermentation, drying
How to brew tea with Turkish çaydanlık
The Turkish çaydanlık, a kettle with two teapots—the top for brewing the tea and the bottom for water—is used to make the iconic copper-colored tea. In the top, tea leaves and boiled water sit to steep. In the lower half, plain water is boiled to dilute the tea to taste.
First, boil water in the lower teapot. For every cup of tea, add a standard teaspoon of black tea to the upper pot. You may wish to add a sugar cube to make it less bitter. Add boiled water from the lower teapot, enough to cover the tea leaves. Let brew for 15-20 minutes. To check if your tea is ready, look inside the top pot. If the tea leaves are no longer swimming on the surface, it is ready to serve. Keep the teapot on a low heat until teatime is over. Fill one third of the tulip-shaped glasses with brewed tea and dilute it by filling up the rest with boiling water or dilute to taste.