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  • Writer's pictureKevin Whitehead

Turkish Tea: A Cultural History

In Turkey, there is a blend of traditions and influences. As a transcontinental region, there are areas of the country located in Western Asia and Europe. Its varied history is unique, and it's evident in its cuisine. Perhaps no food or drink reveals this country's history other than Turkish tea or 'cay,' pronounced chai. The Chinese imported tea to Turkey hundreds of years ago, and the term cay is a derivative of the Chinese word for tea- 'cha.'

The Turkish consume more tea than any other country. Though this is a tea-drinking culture, its popularity here is recent. Beginning in the 19th century Mehmet Izzet, governor of Adana, published a pamphlet describing tea's benefits, leading to its increase in consumption. Yet tea drinking became widespread in the 1920s when coffee became hard to import after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Global Influences, Exquisite Flavors

The tea-drinking culture in Turkey has influence from the Chinese, Russian, and Middle Eastern cultures as well. It's processed in the same way as in China, served in a Russian style, and shared in tea houses and homes with hospitality and ritual reminiscent of the Middle Eastern tradition. Because tea is so popular here, there is even a region where it is grown and cultivated. The province of Rize, located on the Black Sea coast of Turkey, is the central tea-producing region in the area.

The most common tea varieties of Turkish origin include Rize- a Ceylon tea, Feliz - a mellow cultivar, and Altinbas - the most exclusive type. The drying and oxidation process used is the same as the Chinese, and when it comes to serving, the Turkish prepare their tea like the Russians do, using an ornate vessel called a Caydanlik. Much like a Russian samovar, a Caydanlik features two kettles placed atop each other, the bottom used for water boiling and the top for blending the tea with the boiled water.

Brewing Process and Service

Turkish tea is served in clear, tulip-shaped glasses after it's boiled and steeped. However, it's not filled to the brim, instead, pouring only a ⅓ of the brewed mixture into the glass, then filling with more boiling water to dilute the tea for a more mellow flavor. It's common in Turkey to sweeten the tea with beet sugar or accompany it with a Turkish pastry like baklava, lokma, kunefe, or sweet borek.

Where to Find Traditional Turkish Teas

We recommend Caykur Tea because of its aroma and light, distinctive flavor. It is among the most popular Turkish drinks. There are a few varieties from which to choose. Basil Grocery has plenty of options to please your palate when you're interested in trying some of the most exquisite Turkish teas available. Visit us online and savor our exclusive collection.

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