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Turkish Tea: How to Make, Serve and Drink

Recipes

Turkish Tea by Olga Irez of Delicious Istanbul

An obsession, an addiction, a daily routine, a ritual, a welcome gesture, a conversation starter, a break from work, a Turkish breakfast companion, a pastime favorite and what not. These are many roles and faces of the Turkish tea. As a visitor to a shop, a public office, a friends’ house in Turkey you are often served a tulip-shaped glass of hot crimson tea with two tiny sugar cubes on a saucer and a little spoon to stir. And the pleasure of hugging that beautiful glass with your fingers and feeling the warmth of the tea on your palm does its magic as it comforts you and lets the conversation flow.

While there is a good deal of symbolic meaning to the Turkish tea drinking its very taste is important too. Turkish tea is normally black and most of it is cultivated domestically on the Black Sea coast. However, you will get amazed by the varieties in the taste of the seemingly same tea you will encounter in Istanbul or other places in Turkey as different tea makers would have their own brand preferences, own blends of different teas and a bunch of tea making tricks too.

On my first visit to Turkey I bought a large pack of Turkish tea to take home and was largely disappointed with the results I could produce with it. There was clearly some secret to discover and so I came back.

I have found that the way the Turkish tea is brewed is very close to the traditional samovar technology in Russia. In case with samovar a very strong tea brew (zavarka) is prepared in a porcelain tea pot that gets placed on top of the samovar so the brew stays hot. The tea is served by diluting the brew with hot water from the samovar body.

Turks, absolute geniuses of shortcuts, have created a great shortcut in the tea brewing too: they developed a construction of two stacked kettles called çaydanlık – the bottom part is for the boiling water while the upper one is for the tea brew. Here is how you go about making Turkish tea.

Print Recipe

How to Make Turkish Tea

While making Turkish tea seems to be the domain of the tea house patrons and young Turkish brides it is not so hard to master for anybody

Prep Time: 5 Min
Cook Time:
20 Min

Total Time:
25 Min

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup black tea leaves
  • 1 L water for tea brew
  • 1 L water for serving
  • sugar to taste

Directions

  1. Fill the bottom kettle with 2 L hot/boiling water and bring to boil at the high heat on your stove top.
  2. Meanwhile, put the tea leaves into a fine sieve and rinse them with cold water to remove the tea dust. Drain well. Transfer the washed and drained tea leaves into the upper kettle and stack the upper kettle on top of the bottom one.
  3. Once the water in the bottom kettle is boiled, pour half into the upper kettle to brew the tea. Reduce the heat to medium and let the tea in the upper kettle get brewed over the steam coming from the bottle kettle.
  4. Pour out some tea brew (with a Turkish tea glass the rule of thumb will be to pour out the brew to the waist, the narrowest point of the glass) and then dilute it with water
  5. Reduce the heat to low to keep your tea warm as you’ll be serving a few rounds. Once the tea drinking is over turn off the heat.

Making tea is just a half of the deal in Turkey as it is very important to know how you serve it in a proper way. Some of my learnings have come hard way so I will share them to spare you embarrassments while you are in Istanbul or elsewhere in Turkey. Once I served the tea that was looked at and immediately poured out on the ground. This was how I’ve learned that the tea in Turkey can be served in a variety of ways between the two extremes – koyu (dark, strong) and açık (light, weak). I put too little tea brew and the tea came way too weak so I nearly insulted the person without knowing. The distinction and the Turkish words are useful to know if you are particular about your Turkish tea preferences and would like to order it the way you like – strong or weak.

On the other occasion the head of the workers team came down to the kitchen around 5 pm and I was asked to serve him tea. Asked in such a way that assumed that I should have known that a visitor should be served a cup of tea without saying. Ok, noted down. But once I did I had revealed my lack of awareness of one more custom again: I did put sugar in it while you don’t do it here in Turkey. On the contrary to the Turkish coffee that is served  already sweet – you rather serve a bowl of sugar cubes on the side and people add it to their tea as they please. What I saw is care have appeared to be an interference into the sacred ritual of the Turkish tea drinking.

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{ 19 comments… add one }

  • Svetlana Tikhonova April 9, 2011, 7:41 am

    A-m-a-z-i-n-g! Interesting, colorful, appetizing! Good job, Olga!

    Reply
  • Mavili July 24, 2011, 12:57 am

    I’ve heard one can take comfort in rituals. Most of our daily lives are made up of small ones. I have come to find comfort in enjoying Türk tea because I do so everyday with my Türk boyfriend, even if only over msn for now. (long story) but its the one time of day I look forward to the moment I wake up.

    çok teşekkür ederim Türkiye çay için :)

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova July 25, 2011, 6:02 pm

      So well said Mavili!! I also find lots of comfort in having a glass of Turkish tea – even when it’s steaming hot here! You are welcome and afiyet olsun!

      Reply
  • Ozlem January 24, 2012, 1:33 am

    Such a nicely put together view on Turkish tea. I’d like to thank you as a Turkish, Olga. I hope you are enjoying Istanbul and Sapanca very much. I am trying to hang on to my habit of tea thanks to tulumba.com as I live in the US at the moment.

    Hoscakal :)

    Reply
  • Sylvia February 20, 2012, 10:58 pm

    Hi Olga, we went to Istanbul and I fell in love with te de manzano. I couldn’t believe how many times I ordered it. I have a porceline Caydanlik from Italy (one spout). My questions are: Can I use it on our glass stove? What is the heat temperature that’s needed? What are the measurements for only 2 glasses? How long must it simmer? Sorry but I really don’t want to waste my tea experimenting. Thanks for your help.

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova February 21, 2012, 9:58 pm

      Sylvia, I can definitely share the sentiment about Turkish tea. Does the teapot you have effectively consist of two stacked teapots? It has to if you want to make Turkish tea because you don’t boil the tea brew on the stove – it cooks on the steam from the bottom teapot and that’s the key to the taste. If the one you have is double you can go ahead with making Turkish tea. Whether it is usable on your gas stove you can find out only from the gas stone manual. I use max heat to get water to boil and then cut it to low for slow simmering. When I make tea for two (2-3 small Turkish glasses per person) I put about 2-3 table spoon tea leaves. The tea brew simmers for about 15 minutes before it’s ready to serve. Wishing you luck with your Turkish tea making!

      Reply
  • Tamara Liberman December 15, 2012, 9:26 pm

    Olga,

    My daughter was recently in Instanbul and brought home some Turkish tea, however, it is not leave but rather small lumps and has an apple smell. We can’t figure out how to brew it. She claims it is the best apple tea drink she has ever had and can’t wait to share it with me. Any ideas what it is called and how be can brew it?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez December 22, 2012, 12:05 am

      Tamara, if the lumps are tiny and dark brown it’s an instant type of so called Turkish apple tea that will dissolve in the hot water; if the lumps are bigger and lighter brown with occasional red and yellow – you can brew it in the boiling water for 3-5 minutes before drinking.

      Reply
  • Alex March 7, 2014, 8:04 am

    Olga, any tips on where to find the best Turkish tea at the local stores?

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez March 7, 2014, 3:32 pm

      Alex, all my “local” stores are in Istanbul; I am not the best person to ask about sourcing Turkish products abroad.

      Reply
  • Andy April 30, 2014, 8:35 pm

    Oh, so there’s again the “washing leaves” ritual…

    Well, I have seen many times that people would just take the Turkish cay out of the (usually 500 grams) package and directly jam it into the upper kettle.
    However, it looks that there’s really tons of micro-fine powder contained in the leaves which you might not want in your tea. So the sieving/rinsing procedure seems mandatory after all.

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez May 1, 2014, 7:26 pm

      Glad we are on the same page about rinsing the tea leaves before brewing, Andy

      Reply
  • Cortland June 17, 2014, 9:47 pm

    Is there anyway to make the tea less bitter? I made it the exact way here, but my tea was quite bitter. I filled my cup up half way with the tea, and then diluted the rest with water, but it still is very astringent.

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez June 18, 2014, 9:21 am

      Bitterness usually comes from the leaves. Not sure what types you use? I find that some Turkish tea leaves have this characteristic bitterness which I ofset by combining 2-3 different types instead of using just one. Also, you may want to consider serving your tea a bit weaker: 1/3 glass of the brew is a good rule of thumb most people in Turkey use.

      Reply
      • Cortland June 18, 2014, 7:23 pm

        I use Çaykur Black Tea, it also says “turıst çayı” on it, so that kind of concerns me as to the quality of it haha.

        Reply
        • Olga Tikhonova Irez June 19, 2014, 10:39 am

          Just throw in some tiriyaki and filiz into the mix, and the flavour will be more balanced.

          Reply
          • Cortland June 20, 2014, 3:43 pm

            Teşekkürler!

  • Nur July 18, 2014, 1:47 pm

    Hi!
    We recently went on vacation and had the delight of drinking turkish apple tea. My husband simply loved it and still remembers the taste vividly. Any help on how to make authentic turkish apple tea from scratch?
    I’ll be highy grateful of your help! :)

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez July 23, 2014, 3:40 pm

      Hi Nur, I have written about the apple tea here

      Reply

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