What to Drink in Istanbul?

In Istanbul you have a wide variety of local drinks to try out — hot or cold, with or without alcohol. Some of them will sound and look familiar but come with a Turkish twist, such as tea or coffee. Others will be new to you and are well worth a try to please your taste buds. Among those are ayran, boza and other juices. In the alcoholic department, rakı is the undisputed national drink, followed by locally bottled beers and wines. Here’s an overview of what to drink in Istanbul.

Picture of a bottle of Yeni rakı in Istanbul, Turkey.
A bottle of Yeni rakı. © Photo by Javier Parra

Coffee and Tea

The most widespread drink in Istanbul is tea (çay), served in small, tulip-shaped glasses. Turks consume it during breakfast, and continue drinking it throughout the day. They’ll offer it to you in shops and bazaars, and even in banks and offices. What about their famous Turkish coffee (Türk kahvesi) then? Locals usually drink it mid-morning and to finish off a meal.

Picture of typical glass of Turkish tea.
Turkish tea. © Henri Bergius
  • Black tea — Locals drink it almost as black as coffee, often without any accompaniment. However, chances are this will be too ‘strong’ for you. Try to start with the lighter version (açık çay) and add lumps of sugar as you like. Unless you’re in a tourist hotel or restaurant, asking for milk will raise eyebrows.
  • Apple tea — This type of tea is not actually served, but merely sold to tourists to take back home.
  • Turkish coffee — It is dark, strong and ordered according to how much sugar want in it: little (az), medium (orta) and a lot (çok şekerli). You drink it in a few short sips. Keep in mind to stop in time, since you’re not supposed to drink the grounds at the bottom of the cup. If you would like to make some at home, be sure to check out how to make perfect Turkish coffee.

Other Non-Alcoholic Drinks

Picture of a glass of fresh ayran in Istanbul, Turkey.
Fresh ayran. © Ayran.com
  • Water — As previously mentioned in our health guidelines, locals don’t drink it from the tap, and neither should you. Bottled mineral water is cheap and sold literally everywhere. Also note that water-sellers (around the Blue Mosque) in garish, traditional-looking clothes serve drinks based on tap water.
  • Ayran — This is liquid yoghurt made by whopping yoghurt and adding water and salt. It should be served cold and fresh, so don’t keep it for later. It’s sold freshly made in café’s and restaurants or in plastic cups in grocery shops and supermarkets.
  • Boza — Another local drink to sample is boza, made from fermented bulgur with water and sugar. It supposedly builds up strength and virility, but I still need to find the first scientific report to back this up.
  • Fruit and vegetable juices — Why buy and consume bottled juices when every corner shop (büfe) will be happy to make you a fresh one on the spot. Popular juices are orange juice (portakal suyu), cherry juice (vişne suyu) and trunip juice (şalgam suyu). If you happen to be in Istanbul in winter, check out the strange but delicious taste of salep, a hot drink made from crushed tapioca root extracts.

Alcoholic Drinks

Picture of Efes, the tasty Turkish beer.
Efes beer.

Although Turkey is a Muslim country, its people (particularly men) like nothing more than a convivial drink or two. Rakı is certainly the most popular of all alcoholic beverages, while beer (bira) claims second place. A notable third is wine grown and bottled in Turkey.

  • Rakı — This is a strong, clear, anise-flavored spirit, similar to Greek ouzo and French pastis. Most people drink it by adding cold water and ice cubes (in that order), which gives rakı its chalky white look. Hence why people also call it lion’s milk. The most popular brands are Yeni, Efe and Tekirdağ. Locals usually consume rakı while enjoying mezes and fish.
  • Beer — Efes Pilsen is the undisputed number one beer in Turkey. And rightfully so. This perky inoffensive pilsener comes in bottles, cans and on tap. When ordering, the waiter or bar tender will ask you what size you prefer. The most common options are small (33cl) or big (50cl). If you prefer a wheat beer, try out Gusta. It’s brewed by the same company that produces Efes. Imported beers choices are mostly limited to Tuborg, Corona, Beck’s and Heineken.
  • Wine — Local wine choices are plentiful thanks to the flourishing Turkish wine industry. And a handful of wineries produce excellent wine, comparable with those created in France. Our current top choices for both red and white wines are Corvus, Kayra Vintage, and Sarafin.

Cheers – şerefe!

Further Recommended Reading

  1. Top 10 Outdoor Cafes in Istanbul
  2. Top 10 Things to Eat in Istanbul
  3. How To Spot and Avoid Common Istanbul Tourist Scams?
  4. Join My Weekly Live Q&A Group Call

Last updated on 04/07/2015