Turkish Tea and Tea Culture in Turkey

What makes tea a “Turkish tea” is all about the way it is made and served. Turkish tea is loved and consumed all around Turkey, and it even has literary value, in other words, it is a part of the culture. Turkish tea is traditionally made in a container that is only designed for making tea.

Turkish tea generally grows in the eastern black sea, and the black sea region is known for its love for Turkish tea. Turkish tea is a common point in the Turkish population if looked at generally, it is loved and appreciated.

Tea culture in Turkey

I mentioned that Turkish tea is an important component of Turkish culture, yet it would be better to state that tea has its own culture in Turkey. It is a part of daytime gatherings, late-night chats with your best friend, an indispensable part of breakfast, and basically, in any event, you can think of there is always a place for tea.

With the average annual per capita consumption of 6.87 kg of tea, Turkey is the most tea consuming country in the world.

Tea at breakfast

Turkish Breakfast

One of the most common times to drink tea is at breakfast. Before starting to prepare breakfast, tea needs to be put in the tea kettle, so that it can be brewed by the time the breakfast is ready. It is a typical feature of the Turkish breakfast, and if is a crowded breakfast table, tea gets brewed multiple times. Because it is not drunk only one cup, everyone drinks as much as they want, some even drink more than 5 cups in one sitting. Also, there is a concept called “tea addict” in Turkey. This concept is not just a metaphor, it is referring to people who love tea so much that they cannot get through a day without drinking cups of tea. It is an addiction that does not hurt anyone, tea is actually good for your health.

Tea in gatherings

Besides breakfast, tea is a part of gatherings with loved ones, and a symbol of nice chats. In Turkey, if a guest or guests are coming over to your house, tea will be there too most probably. And as in breakfast, the tea kettle gets prepared every time there is no tea left; tea is constantly drunk as long as you are together. Tea is drunk with meals and desserts served, and it is also consumed after eating something. In other words, tea is consumed both with meals and after meals. Tea is a part of gatherings regardless of the context of the meeting; it could be the “kız isteme” meeting (kız isteme, directly translated as “asking for the girl”, is a traditional practice in Turkey. Before marriage, the girl’s family is visited and asked the family if they are willing for this marriage or not.), it could be funerals, it could be a business meeting, and so on.

Besides being a part of gatherings, some gatherings only happen to drink tea. It is quite common among neighbors; they ask each other to “come for tea”. Of course, a nice chat is included in this tea event, and typically, after the tea is finished the gathering ends. This is common in both apartments where the city life is dominant and the rural areas.

Tea in restaurants

If you go to a lunch or dinner in a restaurant or a café in Turkey, you will most probably encounter this situation. After your meal, waitresses will ask if you want tea as a treat. There is a high chance of this tea after your meal in the restaurant will be free. Many restaurants and cafes give free tea after your meal.

Tea in picnics

Of course, a picnic without tea would be deficient. Such that, tea kettles are brought to the picnics to brew tea every time it finishes. And it is regardless of the context of picnic, you can be having breakfast, or a barbecue picnic, anyways, tea will be there.

Tea in unexpected situations

Let us say you need to buy something from a shop, and they had to make you wait for a while. The scenario will most probably continue with them asking you “would you like some tea?”. In this case, the tea is served as an apology for making you wait. Even in scenarios like you unexpectedly ended up in a person’s house without any planning, they will most probably make you tea.

Where is tea grown in Turkey?

Tea is grown in the East Black Sea region, especially in Rize. In Addition to Rize, tea is grown in other black sea region cities such as Trabzon, Giresun, and Artvin.

Turkey is ranked 5th in the world tea production, and the share of the eastern Black Sea region in this ranking is very important. In the Eastern Black Sea, around 1 million 200 thousand tons of tea leaves are produced each year. Since tea needs specific weather conditions, it cannot be grown in every region, and the Eastern Black Sea region is the most suitable place for growing tea in Turkey.

How is Turkish black tea processed?

The production and processing of Turkish black tea are long and tedious. Collecting tea leaves, which is the first step of this process, is very difficult. Picking the tea leaves by hand, rather than using a machine, greatly affects the tea’s quality. Since some chemical reactions occur from the moment the leaves are detached, they should be sent to the production facility immediately, without wasting time.

After the tea leaves are collected, they need to be processed in a specific way. First, moist levels need to be decreased with heat. This process is called withering. The withering process decreases moisture levels by around 30%. Subsequently, the next step starts, which is called “bending”. Bending is made with different machines and tea leaves split into small pieces. This step is important for the juice in the tea leaves to come out, and for oxidation to start.

In the oxidation step, the heat is crucial and it needs to be at the optimum level. In oxidation, the green color of the leaves turns red. The time spent in the oxidation period is crucial for the tea quality because this is the stage in which tea has its own aroma and fragrance.

The next step is named drying, is started to finish the oxidation process. Tea leaves are put into an oven, and moisture levels once again being decreased, to around 4%. Lastly, at the stage called “classification and packaging”, the tea leaves are now got out of the oven and it is classified in different packages by looking at their quality and grain size.

History of tea in Turkey

Tea was first used in B.C 2327, in China, for medical uses only. Then it was realized that leaves could be put into water and it could be drunk that way. The time that tea was first used as a drink was approximately around B.C 10th century.

As a root word, the word tea used today comes from Mandarin, a language of China. This word is “cha”, and it has progressed to Central Asia, Middle East, and Northern countries in time. For this reason, almost all countries in this geography continue to refer to tea as “çay” (çay means tea in Turkish).

The meeting of tea and Turkey starts with the Ottoman periods, and the story of the Ottomans’ was with little shops that were importing tea. Sultan II. Abdulhamid implanted the sprouts that were coming from China. He tried to plant them in Bursa, without knowing that weather conditions in Bursa are not suitable for growing tea because, at that time, it was still not known the weather necessities for tea to grow. After that, they imported coffee from other countries, which was very expensive.

Later, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who is the founder of the Turkey Republic, decided that an alternative must be found to coffee’s expensive. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk worked on the spreading of the tea all around Turkey, by making it more accessible in terms of expense. Indeed, besides the expensiveness of the coffee, tea has become a more accessible and cheaper drink that anyone could have.

In Turkey, tea was not very common to drink until the 20th century. In the 20th century, a tremendous amount of improvement had occurred in terms of producing and consuming tea. This widening started first when approximately 70 tons of black tea seeds were planted to Rize in 1930.

There are hearsays about how the first tea was brought to Turkey, one of them is Zihni Derin illegally bringing it from Batum inside of his walking stick. Even though tea was growing in Turkey later, the demand was so high that they had to import it from other countries. Until around 1963-1965, this importing kept going, after 1965, the production was enough to meet the tea demands.

Things used in the preparation and serving of the Turkish tea

Even though the tea is consumed in various cups like mugs or even water glasses, Turkish tea has specific types of things that are typically used in the processes of preparation and serving the tea.

Teacups

When teacups are mentioned, you may think of tiny, adorable British tea mugs, but Turkey has a special form of a teacup that is an important part of drinking the Turkish tea experience. The most important components of Turkish teacups’ are, having a relatively slim middle part, and not having a cup handle. The slim middle part is crucial, this type of teacups has a figure of an hourglass and is referred to as a “thin-waisted cup”. (Sometimes, it is also referred to as tulip-shaped glasses.)

There is no exact information about who designed the Turkish style thin waisted teacups for the first time. However, in the painting called Semaver, which is the work of Hodja Ali Rıza, the visual of the teacup which has a thin middle part is encountered. Since the death of Hodja Ali Rıza shows the year 1930, it can be said that the concept of thin waisted teacup has been present in Turkey for at least 90 years. 

It was a product of a scientific search rather than searching for an aesthetic look. Glasses from Europe were expensive and they were not practical to use while drinking tea. So, a teacup with a thin middle part was invented. There is no handle, hence, you need to hold it with your palms and it is a great way to warm up your hands. 

Drinking tea is not just a drinking cup of some liquid in Turkey, instead, a pleasure is expected while drinking tea. This pleasure can be obtained with the brewing style and the quality of the tea, and the shape of the teacup plays an important role. Holding a thin-waisted teacup is a pleasure itself. Also, thin-waisted teacups sit just right to your palm. The teacups used for Turkish tea must be clear glass and it must not have any other color.

When pouring your tea into your teacup, you must be extra careful because as hot tea touches the cold, thing teacup, there is a chance to teacup to get broken. This happens due to the expansion of the teacup as it interacts with hot water, and a  sudden tension on the surface of the teacup occurs. As this tension becomes too much for the teacup, your teacup will crush into pieces. So, in order to avoid this, do not put your tea to your teacup too fast. Keep in mind to pour your tea slowly into your teacup

Teaspoons

Even though the format of the teacups is more or less similar, teaspoons are the place where you can get creative. Teaspoons are used to mix the sugar in tea if you prefer to sweeten your tea before drinking it. If you have guests and you know that they do not add any sugar to their teas, you should not put a teaspoon in their teacups. But if you do not know their preferences about it, you need to put it. People who do not prefer to sweeten their tea typically put the teaspoon on the teacup coaster.

Teacup coaster

Teacup coasters are tiny coasters that are designed just for teacups. As you purchase a set of teacups, the teacup coaster will be in the set as well. It would be a quite rare experience to see the Turkish tea being served without a teacup coaster. If a person that you are serving tea to adds sugar to their teas, you need to put the sugar cubes in the teacup coaster, after you put teacup on it. 

Samovar

Samovar is a type of bowl, usually derived from brass, bronze, bopper, and chrome-steel sheet, that was typically being used to brew tea. It is known to be used by sultans and emperors in their palace, on special occasions. Samovar is a kind of traditional teapot, and even though it is still being used in Turkey today, it is not as common as it used to be. Still, when you go to a café you can see they are serving tea with samovar. Nowadays, instead of samovars, electronic kettles are widely used in the preparation of tea.

Teapots

Teapots are more modern versions of the samovar, and they have 2 compartments, one of them being on top and the other one being in the bottom. Tealeaves or teabags are put into the top compartment, while the water is boiling in the bottom compartment. It is a common thing to have in a Turkish household.

Electronic Kettle

Teapots are now being produced in the forms of kettles, it is pretty much the same with kettles but as in teapots, they have 2 compartments. It is the most commonly used teapot type in Turkey today, and it is the most practical tool to prepare Turkish tea.

Filter

Filters are used if you are using tea leaves instead of teabags. Since the tea leaves are quite tiny, it is nearly impossible to pour a cup of tea without having tea leaves in it. Having tea leaves in your cup might be an unpleasant experience, and to avoid this, you should use a filter. The filter will leave behind most of the tea leaves, and you will be able to enjoy your tea.

How to make Turkish tea?

First of all, keep in mind that you should not put the tea in the teapot until your water gets boiled. If you put the tea to the teapot before your water gets boiled, the tea on the top of the teapot will be burned and will not taste good.

You need to first boil your water, and as the water boils, the empty compartment which is on the top gets warmed up. After your water boils, you can add your tea to the top compartment and then add some boiled water on top of it. You need to wait approximately 15 minutes for the tea to brew.

After the tea is brewed, you need to put tealeaves-boiled water mixture to the tea glass first, this quantity depends on the taste of the person. But keep in mind that if your add too much tea, it may be a little bit bitter. After pouring the tea, you need to fill the tea glass with boiling water. Your tea is ready now.

Another important point is that do not try to fill up the diminished water with cold water. Water will be diminished as you put it to the top compartment, or as you fill the teacups. If you want to add more water, first warm it up in something else and then add water.

If a certain amount of time has passed, the tea becomes stale. You need to consume it for around 30 minutes, and after 30 minutes, you need to brew another teapot of tea. Finishing a teapot in 30 minutes is not a problem, some individuals can drink up to 30 cups of teas in one sitting.

Serving Turkish tea

As mentioned before, Turkish tea is consumed in basically every kind of event you can think of. If it is being served in a house, the young lady of the house needs to prepare it. It is not an odd thing to say to your daughter in the middle of a conversation to go prepare tea for everybody. It can be served plain, or with cookies, pastries, or desserts.

Kıtlama sugar in tea

Kıtlama sugar is used in the Erzurum region(Erzurum is a province in the east of Anatolia) to sweeten tea. While drinking tea with sugar, firstly, sugar is thrown into the mouth and then a sip of tea is taken. Then the sugar should be taken out from under the tongue, circulated in the mouth one round, and taken under the tongue again. Generally, sugar is consumed in this way is called kıtlama sugar.

Best Turkish Tea Brands

As you may guess, in a country that loves tea this much and has lots of tea addicts, there are lots of different tea brands. But as in any other kind of drink or food, there are the best brands that you can understand the difference from others. It can be said that the best tea brand in Turkey is Çaykur which is a state-owned company. Çaykur has different types of teas, and the top three best ones are listed as follows:

Altınbaş

Altınbaş is made from the most delicious part of the tea leaves: the top parts of them. It has a dense flavor and even a little bit of it will add a lot of taste.

Tirebolu 42

This one gets its name from the memory of Çaykur’s 42nd tea factory in Giresun. It has a special flavor, smell, and color. It is one of the most loved tea among tea addicts.

Filiz

This tea made from the first sprouts of tea, and hence the name “filiz” is given to it (filiz means sprout in Turkish). The tea made from Filiz is quite soft, and commonly preferred in Turkey.

İsmail Çamönü

Hi! I am Ismail. I am a digital nomad from Turkey. I lived in many cities around Turkey during my life and I am passionate about traveling. At Nomad's Guide to Turkey, I share travel tips for nomads, expats, and tourists who would like to visit Turkey.

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