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All the Tea in China! But What About the Tea in Turkey?

My writing includes my personal travel experiences, destination, history, and cultural information.

The drinking of teas in Turkey is not only a social ritual but has a substantial economic impact on the country. Imagine this.... Turkey is the 5th largest exporter of tea globally, but at the same time, the nationals are the largest consumer in the world; with an average of seven pounds per person annually. That's a lot of tea!

Tea, Simit bread, and backgammon are an integral part of social gatherings in Turkey. We will discuss that social tradition later in this article.

History of Tea in Turkey

Records tell us that tea has been an essential part of the culture in Turkey as far back as the 5th century when it was used to barter with China.

Coffee was hugely popular but after World War I, the availability of coffee was limited and became very expensive. It was at this time, that the consumption of tea skyrocketed. It was also at this time, that the government became involved in the tea harvest and the export of the leaves became an important source of revenue.

Tea Today

By the mid-1800s, tea had become the beverage of choice for the Turkish people. And today, it is still the preferred go-to.

The Social Ritual

Served in ince belli, clear tulip-shaped glasses, the ritual of this beverage is found in households, shops, and kıraathane (teas houses for men only). The ince belli has given Istanbul a huge economic boost as the hand-blown glass industry has seen profound growth.

The glasses used for this fabulous infusion are an important part of the tradition. After being prepared in a double-stacked pot, the beverage is served at a boiling hot temperature. The water from the smaller of the two pots is held back to dilute the tea for those who prefer a weaker variety. Typically, Turkish tea is very strong. The stronger version, very crimson in color, is called koyu and the weaker version is acik. Respectively, the words translate to dark and light. The glasses are not gripped like a mug but instead are held by the fingertips at the rim.

Sugar is often used in this infused beverage although milk is not.

Black Tea and Herbal Teas

Black teas are the preferred type in Turkey. Rize Turist Çay is the preferred brand throughout the country. Other popular brands include Dogadan Cay, Dogus Cay, Lipton, and Ofcay. Homegrown tea is actually preferred by nationals. The tea is usually infused as a loose leaf as opposed to bagged.

While Black tea is a social tradition, herbal varieties are used for holistic purposes. Apple is commonly consumed for digestive issues and to boost the immune system. It is also thought to balance blood sugar. Yarrow is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties and Sage is considered a "heal all".

Simit Bread is Part of the Ritual of Drinking Teas

Along with the tea, simit bread is served. Taste and texture vary by region but this bread is compared to an American bagel, similar in shape and encrusted with seeds (sesame, poppy, flax, and sunflower). While tea is consumed with simit, the bread itself is not always served with tea. Street vendors sell the bread and it is considered a typical breakfast choice served with fruit preserves or cheese.

An Interesting Sidenote to the Ritual of Drinking Teas in Turkey

Although tea has been a social tradition for what seems like forever, the younger people have also embraced the ritual. For that reason, tea cafes are popping up in record numbers.

In the cafes, especially in the kıraathane, backgammon is commonly part of the social aspect of drinking this time-honored beverage.


My Impressions

We all travel for different reasons. No matter why we travel, to some degree, we experience cultural emersion in our destination. Even if our emersion is simply enjoying different food and drink that counts! Personally, I love to discover the local traditions and the impact those traditions have on the lives of local people.

The drinking of teas and the simit bread in Turkey was a surprise for me. I had always equated Turkish coffee (in small cups with someone waiting to read the leaves) as the social tradition of the country. From my experience, I learned the economic impact (the export of tea, the glassblowers, and the sprouting up of new cafes) was in many cases, life-changing for many. The economics doesn't even address the importance of the social aspect this tradition brings to the table.

Traditions around the world have stood the test of time because everyone benefits in one way or another. What traditions do you observe and how do they impact your life? What new traditions have you been exposed to while traveling? I invite you to come back and leave comments in the section provided.

Until next time friends, remember "To Travel is To Live!"

© 2022 Dee Serkin

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