Turkish Tea (Çay) in Istanbul

Last Updated on August 3, 2022

Turkish tea: hot, fragrant, bracing, and available everywhere, all the time in Turkey.

Turkish coffee is more famous, but Turkish tea (çay,CHAH-yee) is the national drink, brewed from leaves grown on the steep, verdant mountain slopes of Turkey's eastern Black Sea coast.

Traditionally, Turkish tea is brewed samovar-style, with a small pot of very strong tea kept hot atop a larger vessel of boiling water. Pour a small amount of strong tea into a little tulip-shaped glass and cut it to the desired strength with hot water.

In recent years tea bags, especially foreign brands (most prominent: Lipton), have become something of a status symbol, but most of Turkey still runs on real samovar-brewed Black Sea coast tea.

In fact, Turkish tea purists mumble derogatorily about poşet çay (teabag-tea) as being obviously inferior to loose-leaf, samovar-brewed Turkish tea.

Aren't these little gold-rimmed glasses nice? Nobody drinks just one.

Turks usually add cube sugar (never milk or lemon, although you can often get milk or lemon if you ask.)

The sight of the çaycı (CHAH-yee-juh, tea-waiter) carrying a tray of glasses to thirsty, caffeine-craving tea-drinkers is one of the first and most common sightsyou'll see in Turkey. Having fresh, hot tea always available everywhere is one of life's splendid little luxuries in Turkey.

Order your tea açık (ah-CHUK, “open,” weak), or koyu(koh-YOO, dark, strong) as you like, or just order çay and it will come normal strength.

In some restaurants and pastry-shops you can order a duble çay (DOOB-leh, double tea): it comes in a water glass. But why not have a small traditional glass and when you've finished it order a fresh one? And another, and another....

Actually, read all about it in an article I wrote for the Sunday Telegraph (London).

If you don't want caffeine, try these:

Ada Çay: sage tea, one of several popular herbal infusions (bitki çayları, BEET-kee chah-yee-lah-ruh)

Ihlamur: linden-flower tea (mostly in winter) (UHH-la-moor)

Elma Çay: apple "tea," like hot apple juice, mostly sugar (EHL-mah chah-yee)

Here's an experience I had with Turkish tea:

"Tink tink tink tinka tinka tinklinklinkle, the tiny stainless steel spoons rang against the little tulip-shaped glasses as we stirred in sugar, holding the spoon-end between thumb and index finger, pinkie aloft. Gingerly I held the gold rim of the glass so as not to burn my fingers. Dainty sotto voce slurps, mixing cool air with hot tea as it enters the mouth.

"An audible sigh. Ahhhhh! Good tea." (—from Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea, "Rockefeller Geldi!")

There's more about tea and tea culture in Turkey on RateTea.com.

Want to get any of these teas right now? ContactTulumba. They'll send it anywhere in the world (use Promotional Code HNE6408).

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