Pelin Aylangan will be publishing a book about tea in Turkey in the near
future. In the meantime, below are excerpts from previous articles and speaking
It is hard to imagine breakfasts, social gatherings, business meetings,
negotiations for carpets in the Grand Bazaar, or ferry rides across the
Bosphorus in Turkey without the presence of tea. With tea servers in streets,
shopping malls, and parks shouting, “ÇAY!” (chai) the beverage is always within
shouting distance. It is fundamental to Turkish social life and plays a large
role in Turkey’s domestic economy.
Tea in Turkish Social Life
Although tea passed through Turkey as part of the Silk Road trade in the 1500s,
it did not begin to become a part of daily life until nearly four centuries
later. In 1878 Mehmet Izzet, the then governor of Adana, published the Çay
Risalesi (Tea Pamphlet), touting the health benefits of drinking tea. Although
coffee was still the preferred hot beverage during this period, the consumption
of tea began to spread as tea houses opened in the Sultanahmet area of
Istanbul. Also, tea became a cheaper alternative to coffee; one could purchase
four glasses of tea for the price of one cup of coffee.
Today, Turks have one of the highest per capita consumption rates of tea,
averaging about 1,000 cups per year. This high rate owes itself to the
availability of places to consume tea, social customs and traditions, and
domestic production along the Eastern Black Sea coast.
Travel to any town in Turkey and you are sure to find a teahouse or a tea
garden. In smaller towns and rural areas, teahouses are the preferred social
hub where news and gossip are exchanged. In the larger cities and touristic
regions, teahouses welcome the young and old, as well as many foreigners. Tea
gardens, another social venue for drinking tea, gained popularity in the 1950s,
especially in Istanbul, and were the place where families went for their social
outings. It is important to note that the Turkish tea garden is very different
from a Japanese tea garden. Whereas the latter is quiet and serene and was
developed in conjunction with the Japanese tea ceremony, Turkish tea
gardens are hubs of social activity with kids running around, music playing,
and lively conversation among various groups from students, to businessmen to
retirees and foreigners.
In the rural areas of Turkey, tea takes center stage at social events. A
Turkish Bridal Shower, sometimes referred to as a gelin hamami because it is held in a Turkish bath, involves taking
samovars of tea and pastries for all to enjoy. Five o’clock tea time is also
observed in Turkey, particularly among house wives.
Preparation and Serving
Turks prepare tea using a
double teapot. Water is boiled in the lower (larger) pot and the loose-leaf tea
is steeped in the top (smaller) pot. This method allows each person to drink
the tea as they desire: strong and steeped, or light with lots of water added.
In central Anatolian towns such as Amasya, and in Eastern Turkey, tea is
prepared in a samovar.
Turks prefer to drink tea in small tulip-shaped glasses. Though the origins of
this shape are not known, the clear glass allows the drinker to appreciate the
crimson color of the tea. The tea glass is so important in Turkish life it is
used as a measurement in recipes. As you pass tea gardens and teahouses you
will hear the clinking of tiny tea spoons in the tea glasses. In large cities
like Istanbul, and the capital Ankara, tea may be served in porcelain cups and
mugs as in England and the United States, but the small tea-glass is by far the
container of choice.
Generally, two small sugar cubes will accompany tea that is served in public.
In Erzurum and other towns in Eastern Turkey, tea is taken in the “KITLAMA”
style, where a lump of sugar is placed between the tongue and cheek. Turks
never add milk to their tea; sometimes lemon may be preferred
Turkey’s serious attempts at cultivating tea began in 1917 in the Eastern Black
Sea town of Rize. However, due the Turkish War for Independence, it was
difficult for the Government-appointed agricultural engineers to gain the
residents’ support, which was critical to the endeavor’s success. In 1924 the
Government passed a law stating that tea, oranges, and filberts would be raised
in Rize. However, it was not until the mid- to late-1930s that the Government
placed a strong emphasis on cultivating tea. The first large scale cultivation
occurred in 1937 when 20 tons of seeds were brought from Batum in the Georgian
Republic, and planted at the central green house in Rize, yielding 30 kilos of
tea. Tea cultivation began to spread and become an inextricable part of
economic life along the Eastern Black Sea Coast, so much so that towns began to
change their names to have the word “Çay” in them: the town of Mapavri became
Çayeli and Kadahor became Çaykara. By 1965, the production of tea had satisfied
the domestic market and Turkey began to export its tea.
Çay-Kur, the Directorate of Tea Establishments was founded in 1971 to
coordinate both the cultivation and processing of tea, and in 1973 it went into
active operation. Çay-Kur aimed to expand tea cultivation, stay abreast of
innovations in tea processing technology, and import and export tea as
necessary. Çay-Kur enjoyed a monopoly over Turkish tea until 1984, when tea
processing and packaging were opened to private enterprises.
Today, Turkey is the world’s fifth largest producer of tea, behind India,
China, Kenya and Sri Lanka. Along Turkey’s Eastern Black Sea Coast tea bushes
stretch from the border with the Georgian Republic to the town of Rize,
Turkey’s ‘tea capital’, and extend farther westward toward Trabzon. Over
200,000 families are involved in the cultivation of tea either as owners of tea
“plantations”, sharecroppers, or employees in the nearly 300 tea producing