Turkish Tea, an Offer You Can’t Refuse

Tea is big in Turkey. A great deal of the population admires this drink. When asked to describe a hot summer day, a cold winter day, a visit to family or friends, a quick way to relax and especially a full breakfast, tea will be part of it. People often associate Turkish tea with apple tea, but that’s just a touristic thing.

Picture of a typical Turkish tea glass, served in Istanbul, Turkey.
Typical Turkish tea served in Istanbul. © Photo by Captain Orange

Traditional Turkish tea is black, and it’s consumed massively. Turks do sometimes fancy a herbal tea, such as rose hip (kuşburnu çayı), linden flower (ıhlamur çayı) among other flavors. But those are mostly consumed for their health characteristics and to color up the taste buds.

A Quick Look in the History of Tea

We do not know exactly when and how mankind started to drink tea. The first record of using tea as a beverage comes from China dating back to the 10th century BC. But only since 1589, Europeans learnt about tea when a Venetian author credits the lengthy lives of Asians to their tea drinking. In the 16th century, Portuguese traders imported tea and it became very fashionable in aristocratic circles and at the royal courts. In Great Britain, tea even became so chic that at the end of the 17th century alcohol consumption declined. In the 19th century, Chinese trade of tea with Western nations spread and the tea industry started to appear in Europe and America.

History of Turkish Tea

Picture of Turkish tea fields in the Black Sea region of Turkey.
Tea fields. © Free Photos

Surprisingly, compared to tea’s thousands years of history, Turkish tea is relatively young. Some sources mention that Turks traded and consumed tea as soon as 400 B.C., but certain is that tea only became common in Turkey from the 1900s onwards.

The very first attempt to grow tea on Turkish soil took place in Bursa between 1888 and 1892. It wasn’t a success since this part of the country is ecologically inadequate for growing tea. In 1924, the parliament passed a law about cultivating tea in the east of the Black Sea region. In the late 30s, 70 tons of black tea seeds were imported from Georgia in order to start nurseries in the region. In 1940, an additional law that supported the farmers and protected their rights boosted the cultivation of tea in the region. Today, 767 million m² of land is used to grow tea, and it is the second most consumed Turkish drink, after water.

How to Make Good Turkish Tea?

  • Tea — There are several brands of Turkish tea. Çaykur is the oldest company that produces tea in Turkey. There are also younger and equally successful ones like Doğuş. Whichever brand I get, I always check the production year. Well packed tea expires on average after two years. My choice is eastern Black Sea tea, with bergamot flavor.
  • Water — Using good quality water is essential. It has to be soft, still, spring water. Bottled drinking water is the safest choice to avoid chalk or chloride.
  • Pots — The Turkish teapot comes in two pieces: the bottom metal pot for the water, and the smaller top for tea. The top piece plays an important role in the process. Therefore, it has to be the best material for the occasion, which is porcelain.
  • Portion — The amount of water is measured roughly, but for the tea you can use this rule of thumb: one desert spoon full of tea per person.
  • Making the Tea — Add the tea to the top part, and put water to boil in the bottom part of the teapot. When the water boils, add some to the top pot, reduce the fire to the bare minimum, and wait 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Tips to Make the Perfect Tea

Picture of typical Turkish teapot in porcelain.
Turkish teapot. © Bazaar of Istanbul
  • Quality Tea — To make sure that you picked a good quality tea, put some tea in cold water. If the color of the water changes slowly then it is good. If it changes rapidly then there is something fishy. Once you have good tea, you should store tea air tight, dry and away from other odors. My suggestion is to get small packs, and give different brands a chance.
  • Avoid Bitterness — Refrain from boiling the water too long, or on very high fire. The oxygen level of the water will decrease, the dry tea in the top pot will get bitter, and its caffeine level will increase.
  • Count to Ten — Before adding the water on to the tea, wait a few seconds for the actual boiling to stop. This will preserve the healthy characteristics and taste of the tea.
  • Stirred Nor Shaken — When you add water to the top pot, never stir or shake. Just pour it in, let it rest and turn down the fire to minimum. This way you again prevent your tea from becoming bitter because of the excessive heat. Never boil the tea itself.
  • 30 Minutes — Consume steeped tea within half an hour.

Serving the Tea

Turks use special curved, see-through tea glasses and a small plate underneath for making it easier to carry and serve. Since the steeped tea is on the top pot you should be careful with the amount you pour onto the glass.

Half of a glass is very strong (koyu or demli), a quarter of a glass is considered normal, and less is light (açık). Then you of course add water to fill rest of the glass. Not all the way up though! You should leave 1 cm of space at the top to help the drinker to get a sip without spilling or burning his or her fingers. Moreover, traditional Turkish tea glasses have no handle like a regular Western cup, so you need to hold the glass from the top using your thumb and index finger.

If you have guests over, do use a little more tea and water than required. The host is supposed to supply tea as long as the guests’ desire. In Turkish culture you just cannot say, “Sorry, we don’t have any tea left!” This is simply not done, at all.

In case you are the guest, keep the famous Turkish hospitality in mind: just like any other treat, the host will insist you have one more. To prevent this, you might apply an equally traditional way and put your tea spoon on top of your tea glass the minute you finish your tea. This means, “Honestly no – that’s enough. Thank you!”

Further Recommended Reading

  1. Top 10 Outdoor Cafes in Istanbul
  2. Turkish Customs and Etiquette
  3. What Does a Typical Turkish Breakfast Look Like?
  4. Do you have a question? Ask it here!

Last updated on 04/07/2015