Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Ritual of Turkish Tea

Tea is a beverage meant to be shared and enjoyed together. Sharing sips and conversation is the perfect way to spend a happy afternoon. Many cultures have a ritual of sharing tea, and I can't think of a better example than Turkish tea culture. Turks drink more tea per person than any other country. Tea is offered to guests as soon as they arrive, and tea houses and gardens are the social gathering hubs in even the smallest towns. I recently had the pleasure of learning all about how to make Turkish style tea. My son's best friend's mother Özen is Turkish, and she invited us over for an afternoon of tea, treats, and playtime. I got a first hand look at how to make tea the Turkish way, and what foods are traditionally paired with it.

Rize Tea

Tea is a way of life in Turkey. Çay (tea, pronounced 'chai') is always in the house. As I mentioned, it is a necessity when guests arrive, an essential element of hospitality. Turkey is not only the top consumer of tea in the world, they also grow tea in Rize, an area on the eastern Black Sea coast. Turkey exports part of their tea production but they drink most of it themselves. The tea leaves are the CTC variety, and produce a strong, dark brew.

The çaydanlık

There are a few steps to making Turkish tea, and you need the proper equipment. First, you need a special kettle called a çaydanlık (pictured above). It looks like two kettles stacked on top of each other (similar to a Samovar). The large bottom kettle is for boiling water, and the top is for steeping tea. You'll also need Turkish tea, and tulip-shaped glass teacups along with saucers. Little spoons are also a plus!

To make your tea, fill the bottom kettle with water, and put about 2 tablespoons of tea in the top kettle. Bring the water to a full boil and then turn off the heat.

Once the water is ready, slowly fill the top kettle (the one with the tea) with the water. Then refill the bottom pot with fresh water, replace on the stove along with the top kettle, and re-boil while the steeping happens. The tea should steep for 10-15 minutes. It'll be good and strong!

Pour tea into the glass cups, and leave room to dilute with the freshly boiled water. The tea is always quite strong, but the depth of the strength can be personalized. Just add as much or as little water to the cup as you like. Özen said the tea is supposed to be the shade of 'Rabbit's blood' which is a little gruesome, but a helpful reference. I guess I like my tea extra-bloody, since I'll take it as strong as I can get.

Sugar is usually served in cubes, but it doesn't have to be used. I added sugar to mine to get the full experience. The tea is strong, bitter, earthy, and sweet. I loved it and drank quite a few cups.

We enjoyed feta cheese and simit (a Turkish bread) with our tea (yes there were also sweet treats afterwards, as you can see in the photo). Bites of tangy, salty cheese combined with the chewy sesame flavor of the simit was the perfect accompaniment to the strong tea. It's very easy to get swept  up in conversation and drink many, many, many cups of tea. I was definitely well fed and caffeinated after our jubilant afternoon!

I think I need to get a çaydanlık and some turkish tea. I love the ritual of preparing this tea and serving it to guests. It is also a satisfying morning or early afternoon sip! The culture of tea may seem different from place to place but it really is quite similar. It comes down to mindfully preparing and enjoying a beautiful beverage. Thank you so much to Özen for teaching me how to properly brew and serve Turkish tea! I am definitely hooked.

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