A nation of many contrasts, Turkey displays a fascinating history and a unique cultural heritage that reflects its geographical location at the very intersection of east and west. In fact, the nation’s former capital, Istanbul, is bisected by the Bosphorus Strait. This waterway delineates the boundary that separates the city, placing half of Istanbul in Europe and the other half in Asia.
Wherever you journey throughout the length and breadth of Turkey, you’re likely to come across reminders that, for millennia, this country has straddled several cultures, bringing together many features of both western and eastern lifestyles in new and often exotic ways. Whether you spend time in urbane, bustling Istanbul, or enjoy the leisurely, laid-back pleasures of sun and sand on the nation’s glorious Aegean coastline – at a splendid CLC World Aegean coast resort – you’re certain to come across tell-tale traces of this mingled eastern and western legacy.
One of the most fascinating examples of this blended eastern and western heritage lies in the Turkish passion for tea or çay (chai). The ways in which the Turks produce, drink and approach tea exemplify not only that this seemingly simple beverage holds a special place in the nation’s heart, but also reflects tea-related customs from both Europe and Asia. Here are five examples of how Turkey’s relationship with tea both sets it apart and ties it to other nations in the region and beyond.
History of Tea in Turkey
Although Turkey is most commonly associated with coffee drinking and is famed for its thick, sweet Turkish coffee – tea consumption has grown, over the past 100 years, to play a central role in the nation’s psyche and social practices.
Although enjoying a centuries-long history in Turkey, tea truly only claimed the prominent position it currently holds in that country, due to a series of events that took place in the first quarter of the 20th century. When the Ottoman Empire fell, in the aftermath of World War I, Turkey lost control of crucial coffee-generating provinces within its south-eastern territories. As a result, coffee became too expensive to consume on the mass scale in which Turks had previously enjoyed it.
Instead, with encouragement from the country’s leader at the time, Atatürk, Turkey began to quench its thirst with a beverage that had previously been more associated with its neighbours to the west. In part because it could be easily grown and made domestically, and partially because it fit in better with Atatürk’s plans to secularise and westernise his nation, Turkey began to embrace a new drink – tea. Thus began the nation’s love affair with tea, a passion that has not lessened with time and which, to this day, shows no signs of waning.
Local Tea Production
Many may be surprised to learn that Turkey produces between 6% and 10% of the globe’s tea. In fact, Turkey is one of the top five tea-growing nations in the entire world. Amazingly, more than half of that tea will be drunk within the borders of Turkey itself. As a result, Turkey regularly ranks as one of the highest per capita tea consumers on the planet (usually followed closely by the UK).
The vast majority of Turkey’s tea leaves are grown along its Black Sea coastline, in the north of the country. The tea growing territory stretches eastward, from the city of Rize, along the shoreline all the way to the boundary with Georgia. Rize province – with its mild climate, high rainfall levels and fertile soil – yields a flavourful black tea.
Be sure to savour this delicious tea in one of the array of fine dining options that you’ll be able to enjoy during you stay at one of CLC World’s Turkish resorts on the Aegean coast.
Preparation of Turkish Tea
While the actual black tea produced in Turkey might seem quite familiar to western taste buds, the method normally used to prepare Turkish tea will probably appear somewhat unusual. Turks usually make their tea using a double, stacked teapot, called a çaydanlık. The loose-leaf tea is steeped in the upper (smaller) teapot, while water is boiled in the lower pot.
This preparation process allows the tea to be served in varying strengths. Those who prefer stronger, less-diluted tea can sip a dark brew, poured directly from the top pot. Yet, those who favour a subtler, less intense flavour can dilute their tea, to varying degrees, by adding boiling water from the bottom pot.
You can observe Turks preparing tea in this fashion throughout the countryside as well as in cities, such as Kusadasi, which happens to be in close proximity to your CLC World Aegean coast resort.
How Turks Typically Take Their Tea
Turkish people traditionally opt to drink tea from small, tulip-shaped glasses. So much tea is drunk each year from these delicate glass vessels that over 400 million of them are sold annually in Turkey. In fact, these tea glasses are so ubiquitous in Turkish life that they are used as an accepted vessel of measurement for cooking recipes.
While no one has been able to definitively pin down the origins of the tulip shape, the reason for the choice of glass seems to stem from the ability that this material gives drinkers to see and appreciate the rich, crimson colour of Turkish tea.
Unlike tea drinkers in the UK, and from many other Western European nations, Turks do not take milk with their tea. They will, however, add sugar – which can be served in the form of sugar cubes (on the side), or placed between tongue and cheek to be dissolved as you sip. Lemon is also frequently served as an accompaniment to Turkish tea.
In Turkey, tea drinking is an accepted and valued part of life. Turks begin consuming this beverage with breakfast and continue sipping throughout the day. Tea tends to accompany most of the rituals and rites of life in Turkey. Serving and drinking tea together is a token of friendship. And, in workplaces throughout the land, tea breaks are legally mandated rights by law of the land – with two required during the course of each working day.
No matter where you may venture, as you explore this incredible country from your plush base at a CLC World resort in Turkey, you’ll probably find yourself being offered tea, as it’s a polite way to welcome newcomers. If you are, then you might want to bear in mind that accepting the offered tea is a welcome sign of mutual respect.
Turkish Tea Gardens
While the notion of a tea garden might sound like something you’re more likely to come across in eastern countries like Japan, they also constitute a pivotal part of the Turkish culture. However, unlike the calm, tranquil images conjured up by the thought of a Japanese tea garden, a Turkish tea house is usually a hub of social activity. These spots are busy, vibrant places where people gather to socialise and spend time in each other’s’ company, chatting, playing backgammon, listening to music, catching up on the latest news and watching their children have fun together.
For sure, as you step into the many tea gardens that can be found across the country, many in close proximity to CLC World’s Aegean coast resorts, you’ll not only be able to sample the local brew, but you’ll also get an unforgettable taste of Turkey’s colourful and vibrant customs and society.