In under a century, Turkey launched, nurtured, and created a robust tea industry—and now boasts the highest per capita tea consumption in the world (see previous post)! Yet when Turks developed their tradition of making and drinking that tea, they drew on centuries of history.
First off, Brewing the Tea
Similar to how Russian tea is made in a samovar, Turkish tea is made in a double-boiler, or çaydanlik. Both samovar and çaydanlik may derive from earlier, portable cookers: the Mongol cooker used in China, and the charcoal-burning versions used by Asiatic nomads.
The modern çaydanlik shown here has two stacked pots. The bottom, larger one is metal, with a base that can be set on a stove burner. The smaller pot on top is made of porcelain.
To use, water is put in the bottom pot and the tea (çay) leaves (Çay Çiçegi black tea by Çaykur) measured into the top one (roughly a teaspoon per person).
Following the directions of The Istanbul Insider, I heated the water to the boiling point, then poured some of it into the top teapot and lowered the heat.
Serving the Tea (gorgeous glasses required!)
After 15 minutes, I poured the brewed tea into small tulip-shaped glasses, filling them about half full, shown here with pomegranate-flavored Turkish delight (because who doesn’t need an excuse to have candy?!).
I then added hot water, being sure not to fill the glass too full—this allows you to hold the glass close to the top, without burning your fingers.
I did a 1:1 ratio because I like my tea strong. This is called koyu or demli.
Using less tea and more water can range from tavşan kani (“rabbit’s blood,” disconcertingly) down to açik (light).
The beautiful color of the tea is definitely showcased in these glasses! And that is partly why they are used.
But Why Tulip-shaped Glasses?
The tulip motif goes way back. While many of us might associate tulips with the Netherlands, they apparently first grew along the 40° latitude corridor, making them native to northern China and southern Europe—and of course Turkey.
In the 1500s, during Sultan Suleiman I’s reign over the Ottoman Empire, tulips were cultivated especially for the sultan.
When Ahmed III ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1703 to 1730, the tulip:
reigned supreme as a symbol of wealth and prestige and the period later became known as ‘Age of the Tulips.’ (Tesselaar Bulbs)
With their endowed status, tulips were tightly regulated. Exile threatened those who bought or sold this flower outside the capital.
The bloom was also celebrated with spectacular tulip festivals,
held at night during a full moon. Hundreds of exquisite vases were filled with the most breath-taking Tulips, crystal lanterns were used to cast an enchanting light over the gardens whilst aviaries were filled with canaries and nightingales that sang for the guests. Romantically, all guests were required to wear colours which harmonised with the flowers! (Tesselaar Bulbs)
So important is the tulip to Turkish culture that they became entwined “within the arts and folklore. You can find references to the tulip all over Turkey, in embroidery, clothing, carpets, tiles and of course the glasses that are made to contain çay [tea]. Four hundred million tulip tea glasses are sold in Turkey every year” (Turkey Homes 2016).
So What Does the Tea Taste Like?
The dark coppery red liquor, with a pungent aroma, is somewhat like a Darjeeling, somewhere between a first and second flush. It’s more full-bodied than a first flush yet has that dry astringency of a first flush. Traditionally, Turkish tea is served with sugar cubes (never milk).
I’ve been told that for western-style brewing, the Himalayan second-flush Nepal Mystic reminds of Turkish tea, so I tried that alongside the çaydanlik-brewed tea.
Although the qualities of premium Mystic are very different from the Turkish tea, and it has a floral note that the Turkish tea does not have, the astringency was similar—and just something about it, something intangible, was analogous.
Turkish Tea: A Success Story
With a population of avid tea drinkers and a production industry that currently ranks fifth in the world, Turkey has come a long way from when, upon the introduction of tea plants to the region:
it was popularly understood that the effort was going to end up in fiasco. (Klasra et al. 2007)
Definitely not so!
And About That Turkish Delight?
Invented during Sultan Mahmud II’s rule (1808–1839), this confectionary is still a favorite!
Click here for the BBC’s look into its history.
–”History of tea production and marketing in Turkey,” by M. A. Klasra et al., International Journal of Agriculture & Biology 1560–8530 (2007): 523–529.
–”The history of the tulip,” Tesselaar Bulbs, accessed Oct. 10, 2018, https://www.tesselaar.net.au/flowerandgarden/thetulip.asp.
–”The tea of Turkey,” Turkey Homes, June 28, 2016, https://www.turkeyhomes.com/blog/post/the-tea-of-turkey.
–”Turkish Tea, an Offer You Can’t Refuse,” The Instanbul Insider, accessed Oct. 4, 2018, https://www.theistanbulinsider.com/turkish-tea-an-offer-you-cant-refuse/.