"Çay(Would isteryoumisiniz?" like to drink some tea?)
Tea is an integral part of Istanbul’s culture and its daily rhythms. Hannah Klein explores the past, present and future of Turkish tea-drinking. Photos by Julius Motal
or those of you who are reading this article in a public space in Istanbul, take a minute to look up and take in your surroundings. How many little tulip-shaped glasses filled with a certain crimson-hued watery substance can you spot? If the answer is anywhere close to zero, I would suggest that you pack up your things and relocate to a place where you can order yourself a glass of çay. Çay is an all-day activity enjoyed during all four seasons in Istanbul. Whether you're taking a break from work, enjoying the cool breeze on the ferry while hopping from one continent to another, catching up with friends, haggling with a shopkeeper at
a historical bazaar or antique shop, digesting a delicious meal, or taking a breather between visiting historical sites, partaking in Istanbul’s tea-drinking culture is bound to enhance your experience. There are few situations for which çay is considered inappropriate and few food and drink establishments where it can't be found. It's a gesture of hospitality and is often generously offered by friends, hosts, restaurants, and shopkeepers alike. Istanbul is a fast-paced, competitive city. One thing that eases the demands to walk faster and work harder is the social ritual of drinking tea. Çay becomes a new means by which we measure, and often lose track of, time – instead of monitoring the minutes
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and hours as they pass by, we agree to stay for just one more cup, to linger a little longer. And as the clinking of spoon on glass punctuates the soundscape, it also reminds us of the continuity of local rituals in a global city.
Tea’s rise to prominence Turkey currently holds the crown for the highest yearly per-capita consumption of tea in the world at nearly seven pounds per person — 96% of the population drinks tea every day. These sky-high rates of consumption are coupled with impressive rates of production, as Turkey consistently ranks in the top five largest tea producers in the world. Unlike many of the other countries
that keep Turkey company on this list, most of the tea that's produced in Turkey stays in Turkey: at present, only 1% of the over 220,000 tons of tea Turkey produces is exported. In a consumer market littered with multinational chains and imported products, the fact that Turkish tea is produced, packaged, sold in Turkey engenders a sense of national pride in the commodity and the rituals that surround it. Çay feels like an intrinsic, essential part of the cityscape but it is actually a fairly recent addition. Its swift rise to prominence is directly linked to the developments of modern Turkish history. During the Ottoman imperial era, coffee was considered the beverage of choice. At times, coffee's consumption
came under fire by governing authorities who considered the substance, along with tobacco and alcohol, to be disruptive to the social order. Nevertheless, the Ottomans were not looking for an alternative and although plenty of tea passed through what is now Turkey on the Silk Road trading route, it just never really caught on. This changed in the late 19th century, when Iranian and Balkan migrants brought their tea-drinking practices. With the arrival of these communities came distinct customs built around the ritual of drinking tea, and soon teahouses and gardens started springing up in the city. These social spaces were open to women and families, unlike coffee houses that were strictly for men, and tea was touted for its myriad health benefits and low cost. However the national obsession didn't truly take hold until well into the first decades after the establishment of The Republic of Turkey, when domestic tea cultivation was well underway. In 1924, one year after the Republic's foundation, a law was passed mandating that tea, oranges, and hazelnuts be grown in Rize, a province in the eastern Black Sea region. The government provided economic incentives to local agriculturists to ensure the development of these crops, such as the distribution of
200,000 free seedlings to any farmer willing to take on the challenge of cultivating tea. After some initial setbacks, tea cultivation was in full swing. While Turkish farmers were perfecting and standardizing the process of growing and processing the crop, the market continued to expand. By the mid-60s, domestic tea supply was able to meet domestic tea demand, and Turkey even began exporting some of its crop.
How do you take your tea? As the Turkish tea industry develops globally, it'll be interesting to see if Turkish tea becomes, like many other black teas have, merely filler for tea bags haphazardly scattered in the offices and homes of distracted global consumers. Chances are that whatever the fate is for Turkish tea globally, if the rituals that animate tea-drinking culture in Turkey ever do change or disappear, it'll be very far in the future. Demleme Ă§ay is typically prepared in a double-stacked tea kettle on the stove. It must adhere to the "four rules of
the lip", meaning that it should be the color of lips, served at a temperature that the lips can tolerate, filled up to the "lip" of the glass, and leave a somewhat bitter aftertaste on, that's right, the drinker's lips. In order to do meet these standards, one should fill the bottom kettle with two liters of high-quality water, put it on the stove to boil, and then place the top kettle securely on top. Then rinse 1/3 cup of looseleaf tea in a fine mesh sieve and place it inside the top kettle. Once the water in the bottom kettle boils, half of it should be poured on top of the tea in the top kettle and the heat reduced so as to let the steam from the bottom kettle infuse the brew in the one on top. Within 10-15 minutes, the brew should be ready, but that's only half the story. The strong brew in the top kettle is then poured into a short and tulip-shaped glass up to its waist and the rest of the glass is filled up to the "lip" with the water from the bottom kettle. Some people prefer their tea aĂ§Äąk ("light", weaker) and some prefer it koyu ("dark", strong) and adjust the proportion of brew to water accordingly. Everyone who gets
involved in Turkish tea-drinking culture is bound to develop personal preferences, whether in relation to the beverage's strength or how much sugar they add. However, Turks never put milk in their tea, and while you may come across a lemon slice floating in someone's cup from time to time, people rarely stray far from the customary serving practices. The rhythm and consistency of tea-drinking customs provide an anchor to ground people as they navigate their way through this ever-changing cosmopolitan cityscape. While different varieties of tea have become more popular in recent years, people mostly stick to the black tea that's domestically produced in Turkey. This changes as you travel to the Southeast, the majority-Kurdish region where many people prefer to drink Ceylon tea imported from Sri Lanka and packaged in nearby Syria. These small acts of resistance to the subtler aromas of nationalism given off by this country's beverage of choice demonstrate how no commodity, even something as seemingly innocent as tea, is immune to geopolitics.
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"Bir çay daha alabilir miyim?" (Can I have another tea?)
Our guide to some of the best places to enjoy çay in the city: Firuz Aga Çay Bahceleri/Kardeşler Café, Cihangir, Beyoğlu Where Siraselviler Caddesi splits off into smaller roads that can lead you towards the antique shops of Çukurcuma, the bustling port at Karaköy, or the charming residential district of Cihangir, can be found a row of çaycı nestled into the neighborhood mosque. Its central location in one of Istanbul's hippest neighborhoods has made it one of the most popular meeting points and best places to people-watch in the city. It can function as the first stop on your way to a bar or party, or the last stop on your way home. Or you can forego the other options and decide to make a night out of simply sitting with friends and ordering glass after glass of tea — it's that easy to get swept up in the lively energy that permeates this space.
of the bubble-like structures half-enclosed in plastic sheeting, a surprisingly charming, otherworldly use of materials. Tea at Kemal'in Yeri or the neighboring çay bahceleri is the perfect way to wrap up a walk or bike ride along the seaside or a day spent exploring one of Istanbul's liveliest, loveliest, and most livable neighborhoods.
Dem, Karaköy, Beyoğlu
Dem is an artisanal tea experience unparalleled in Istanbul. For those of you tea enthusiasts who suffer from indecision: prepare to be overwhelmed. They serve 60 different teas from around the world in black, green, white, red, oolong, smoked, and fermented varieties. Their tome of a tea menu starts out with a list of three carefully-selected Turkish teas, two hailing from the Eastern Black Sea Region and one from Diyarbakır in the Southeast. Every tea order comes with a small dish of spicy roasted chickpea snack mix. You'll also get a delicate chocolate-dipped teabag-shaped sugar cookie to enjoy while you wait for the antique silver spoon resting on the elegant glass to absorb the tea's heat. For those in search of something cold and refreshing on a hot summer day, you can sample one of their iced tea specials, made with fresh fruit. I'm dreading the day when I'll have to decide which one to order: the "Scarlet" (South African Rooibos with strawberries) or the "Beryl" (Japanese blueberry green tea with peaches).
Kemal'in Yeri, Moda, Kadıköy
Elevated above the Moda seaside and next to Moda Park are a series of tea gardens, all of which are guaranteed to be bustling when the weekend rolls around and the weather's nice. With a view of the Sea of Marmara interrupted only by a lush tangle of tree-branches, you really can't go wrong here. While you are encouraged to decide for yourself which çaycı to patronize, I would highly recommend Kemal'in Yeri, which can be found at the very end of the stretch. Here you can choose a seat on one of the two platforms that jut out into the heavenly canopy of trees and are laden with astroturf. If you're lucky, you'll get a seat in one 18 www.timeoutistanbul.com/en August 2014
Pierre Loti Café, Eyüp
It's easy to imagine why the French novelist Pierre Loti took such a liking to the hilltop cafe that now bears his name. The panoramic view of the Golden Horn, the estuary that divides the historic center of the European side from the newer section, is downright inspiring. Getting there is half the fun — you can either take the teleferik (cable car) that soars over the historic cemetery that lies on the steep hill, or climb up on your own through the winding
The panoramic view from Pierre Loti
stone paths. This spot is conveniently located next to the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, the first mosque built after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, and the surrounding complex of libraries and schools in one of the most religiously conservative districts in Istanbul. Between the cable-car ride, the view, and the religious architecture, each visit to Eyüp/Pierre Loti carries you away.
Sanatkarlar Parkı, Cihangir, Beyoğlu
Where there's a park with a view of the Bosphorus, there's bound to be a çaycı on hand. While you'll certainly come upon many charming and atmospheric impromptu tea-drinking spaces as you wander through Istanbul, this one, situated on top of overgrown ruins, has got it all (except for adequate trash pickup). This slightly seedy spot attracts a mix of a hip young crowd Sanatkarlar Parkı
and street animals, the former of which populate the steps that go up to Cihangir proper in what appears to be a high-stakes sunflower-seed-eating contest. The çaycı sets up mismatched old tables and chairs right on the ledge overlooking the Istanbul Modern, the uniquely baroque Nusretiye Mosque, and most importantly, the Bosphorus. Watch the sunset turn the westwardfacing facade of the Hagia Sophia the most luminous pink as the boats cross to and from Europe and Asia and enjoy a çay with friends. Be prepared to be interrupted by affectionate street cats and surprise run-ins with everyone you know.
Piraye Kafe, Nâzım Hikmet Cultural Center, Kadıköy
Nâzım Hikmet is considered by some to be Turkey's first modernist poet. Although he endured decades of censorship, imprisonment, and exile in Russia for his leftist political views, his works have not only endured, but have come to symbolize a certain strain of Turkish intellectualism. The sprawling çay bahcesi located at the Nâzım Hikmet Cultural Center on Kadıköy's pedestrian thoroughfare cum art market Sanatkarlar Sokağı takes its name from his second wife. The calming atmosphere in the expansive outdoor seating area in the building's courtyard allows for ideas to flourish among the creative, politically engaged crowd of tea-sippers. Grab a leftist tract or a book of poems from their bookshop and enjoy the shade with a glass of çay. Mustafa Amca's
Mustafa Amca, Galatasaray, Beyoğlu
The first time I took a seat at Mustafa Amca's, I was overcome with the inexplicable feeling that I had finally arrived. Who knows where it came from? It can't have been the din of animated conversation or the cloud of cigarette smoke or the simple, rough-hewn stools and tables scattered across the cobblestoned terrain of the lateAugust 2014 www.timeoutistanbul.com/en 19
19th century arcade. There's just something special in the air at this çaycı, dubbed "an Istanbul institution" by the well-regarded blog Culinary Backstreets. Located in the Hazzopulo Pasajı off of Istiklal Caddesi, Mustafa Amca's is packed full of lives and relationships unfolding in close proximity. This is one place that the monstrous, bland mass consumer culture that's completely
taken over Istiklal Caddesi can't quite touch. There are no flashing lights announcing big sales to deflect, no ice cream acrobats dressed in orientalist costume to try to ignore. There's just Mustafa Amca and his team, making sure that conversation stays well lubricated, efficiently supplying glass after glass of çay.
Where to buy: The Egyptian Spice Bazaar
urkish tea is usually sold loose in 1 kilo weight boxes and can be found at groceries and convenience stores in every residential neighborhood in Istanbul. The most popular brand is Çaykur, which commands approximately 60% of the market. Herbal teas such as adaçayı (sage) and ıhlamur (linden) are used medicinally in Turkey and can be found at many dried goods and health food stores. You can find loose tea originating from Turkey as well as other countries sold by the weight in the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. Dem also sells their 66 varieties of loose tea. High-quality typical tea-drinking accessories can be found at Paşabahçe on Istiklal Caddesi, or in other grocery or housewares stores scattered throughout the city.
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