Not one day goes by in Turkey without a cup of çay (chai) -or three or four-. From the Black Sea coast to the whole country, tea for the Turks is more than a drink, it is a ritual.
At first glance, Turkish tea is the same as the one we all know, but in this post, we will tell you about the secrets that make it unique in the world.
Why Is It Called Chai In Some Countries and Tea In Others?
Maybe you never thought about it in detail, but in all languages, the word for the second most popular drink in the world after water is something similar to tea or chai.
Tea in English, Té in Spanish, thé in French, tè in Italian, teh in Malay, chá in Portuguese, ça in Kurdish, 차 (cha) in Korean, ชา (cha) in Thai, and çay in Turkish, among so many others.
It’s not that the world is divided into two great camps, but that all roads lead to China, where it all began.
The Chinese character for tea is 茶, and the pronunciation varies by region. In Mandarin, it is said chá, but in several areas of China, it is pronounced tea.
Which Tea is the Turkish çay?
The favorite tea of the Turks is black tea. They say they choose it because it is an antioxidant and counteracts the effects of tobacco and alcohol, two other favorites in the country.
It is not for nothing that the phrase “smoke like a Turk” became popular.
When you try it, you will surely notice that it is the same tea flavor you are used to, but what changes is the way it is prepared and served.
Beyond Black Tea
When you sit in a tea house, you will notice that among the particular çay cups, there are some that stand out for their fluorescent colors: it is fruit tea.
If they glow brightly, it is because they are what we call “fishbowl pebbles”, which would be like a granulated Tang juice powder that is mixed with hot water, creating an extra sweet and totally artificial drink.
But there are also different types of natural fruit teas, which are delicious and you can also take them to go. There are jasmine, lemon, apple, pomegranate, and many other options.
We recommend that you buy them in the streets around the Spice Bazaar, not inside. The quality is the same, but in the Spice or Grand Bazaar stalls you will be charged two or three times more than what you would pay outside.
The Turks Are Unbeatable
Neither the Chinese nor the English: the Turks are the world’s leading consumers of tea. Not only that, but they are self-sufficient: all the tea they consume is produced on the shores of the Black Sea.
On average, every Turkish person drinks 1,300 cups of tea per year which is far more than any other nation in the world.
Why Are the Cups Shaped Like Tulips?
It’s impossible to get through your first cup of tea without wondering who was the creative person who imagined glass cups without a handle for this hot beverage but believes us, after several rounds you get used to it and you don’t want to anymore.
The Turks claim that their cups are better for three reasons:
1- Because being small, they make sure you always have hot tea. In short, you can always refill it.
2- Because the shape keeps the heat (not only the size).
3- Because of being transparent, you can see the intensity well. And this point is key because the Turks have a tea concentrate in a kettle that they reduce with boiling water, so they need to see the color of the tea to make sure they are serving the right intensity.
Speaking of Intensity…
…that’s the explanation why you’re going to see double-decker teapots in houses.
Or, if you go to a tea house, you’ll notice that they’ll squirt tea from a kettle, and then they’ll wash it down with water from a faucet.
This way they can please everyone: whoever wants strong or mild tea can ask for it. If not, it will always be an intermediate point, strong to strong.
Finally, Turkish people are very sweet. On the street, you see many couples with roses, and stuffed animals and they have many romantic songs. Turkish tea could not be left behind.
By default, every time you order a çay, it will come with two sugar cubes in a saucer (in case there is no sugar bowl next to it).
If we consider that the average Turk drinks at least ten cups of çay per day, that’s way too much sugar on a daily basis. Between the sugar and the theine, it becomes addictive.
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