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.
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
- 1/3 cup black tea leaves
- 1 L water for tea brew
- 1 L water for serving
- sugar to taste
- Fill the bottom kettle with 2 L hot/boiling water and bring to boil at the high heat on your stove top.
- 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.
- 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 for 15-20 min over the steam coming from the bottle kettle.
- 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
- 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.