Yep. We are talking about the social and culinary pull of çay (chai).
1. Go back 100 years and tea didn’t even have a hold on Turkish soil.
2. Turkish Tea is grown in the hills along the Black Sea in Rize province.
3. While children and tourists love the elma çay (apple tea), considered an herbal drink, but mostly tasty chemicals in my opinion and definitely not considered tea by the Turks, the strong Turkish tea often served and preferred is closely reminiscent to Sri Lankan black tea.
4. You can buy Ceylon siyah çay (Sri Lankan black tea) here in the grocery store. My box is quite large with packed loose leaves of mid morning drudgery intervention. There is also “kaçak çay” or ‘Smuggled Tea’ that I am keeping my eye out for.
5. Turkey is the 5th largest producer of tea in the world. (Sri Lanka is 4th)
6. Regarding tea drinking, Turkey ranks 3rd in per capita consumption (England and Northern Ireland are higher). I found a statistic that said back in 2004 it was number one. Regardless of consumer fluctuation, tea is really a part of Turkish identity.
7. When ordering çay you put your number followed by the measurement word ‘tane’. For example: Bir tane çay, lutfen. “One cup of tea, please.”
8. You also never put milk in your tea here. I found out why the Brits do, though, and why the milk is always poured first there. According to a documentary on tea (BBC, I believe) the porcelain cups in England were of an inferior quality and often shattered or broke when boiling hot liquid, such as tea, was directly put into the cup. Pouring in milk first prevented that. Now when you watch Saving Mr. Banks and she constantly insists on a proper cup of English tea, you’ll know why, whether the character did or did not.
9. Turks owe their bir tane çay to Prime Minister İsmet İnönü who in the 1930s, when Turkey was a newly founded republic and strapped for cash, supported a change in the then national drink of coffee for tea cultivation. Coffee after WWI was expensive and often hard to get. I believe a blight of some sort hit around then. Also, many Turkish farmers had to return to Turkey from Russia in 1917 after the Russian Revolution and finding work back home was difficult. The government subsidies for encouraging tea growing were a great combination for agricultural workers needing employment.
10. The introduction of tea drinking came via the Silk Road. It seems to have been introduced to Turkey via Georgia (Russia) who had been cultivating tea on their own since the 19th century. Prior to that Russia had a trade agreement with China for tea, having been introduced to tea themselves when the Mongolian Khan sent tea to a Russian aristocrat as a thank you for a previously received gift. The Russian king tried the tea and was fan.
Which leads me to the fact that tea and diplomacy go way back centuries, forging friendships and encouraging dialogue. Tea is an integral part of hospitality and business here in Turkey. And because of those Silk Road routes, the exchange of gifts among the elite, a governments solution to employment needs, the end of a Revolution, the beginning of a new Republic, and the relaxing joy of holding a steaming tulip shape glass by the rim and sipping liquid energy and focus… I will be forever grateful of this benefit of diplomacy.
Here are some more interesting reads about Tea in Turkey, should you be perhaps as mildly obsessed as I seem to be.
Tea and Serendipity A newspaper article linking Turkish tea and Sri Lankan tea
History of Turkish Drinking Habits: From the Turkish Embassy in Japan
Turkish Tea The Wheres and Hows