Our first afternoon in Istanbul, Viraj and I decided to walk down Istiklal street. We were staying right next to Takshim square and it was but natural to go to Istiklal. We walked through a sea of people and an array of shops which ranged between high end fashion, bars. clubs and street food. Meandering through the crowds and mesmerized by the gorgeous array of anything and everything that shops had to offer, we wandered to the less crowded street parallel to Istiklal. What greeted us was a feeling of the Turkey that you see in pictures and read in books – street lined with shops that cater to the locals, the colourful displays full of ceramic work, antique shops, older gentlemen sitting and talking over cups of tea, cats on the streets, people talking loudly outside their shops.. actually it was a lot more like a market street in India.Viraj and I went into a shop to buy a few things. Yes, I know, we started shopping within a few hours of lading into the city.. but everything is so beautiful! I’m not the one to blame here.. the Turks have wonderful things in their shops. We picked up the things we wanted to buy and in true Indian fashion, tried to strike up a bargain. The shopkeeper just smiled and said.. ‘Sorry Sir, fixed price.’ He paused and added.. ‘But I could offer you some tea.’
Viraj and I jumped at the offer. It was afternoon time and you do need your tea after all.
The shopkeeper stepped outside the shop and called out to tea guy and within a few minutes, a young man came in with a few tulip shaped glasses of cay or ‘chai’ lined up on a tray/holder. Viraj and I kept looking at each other and saying.. ‘just like how the chai walas bring the chai tot he shopkeepers back home!’.. ‘JUST like how it is back home!’ We picked up our respective glasses, had out first sip, and thus began our love affair with Turkish tea.
I am actually a coffee drinker, so giving my heart out to the tea was a little tougher for me than it was for Viraj. I love my cups of coffee at anytime of the day and night. In fact I am having a cup of coffee right now while writing about tea. I liked the tea so much that I felt like I was cheating on my coffee. To appease my conscience, I tried the traditional Turkish Coffee and their version of regular coffee which they call ‘Nescafe’ (I think they make that just for the tourists. I clearly remember when I told the guy that I wanted Nescafe he gave me a ‘whatever you tourist’ look). Well my old faithful didn’t fight for me, I didn’t like either of them. The more I tried to fight it, it stronger it fought back. I tried to have coffee off a wending machine in Bodrum, but it was the hot cup of Turkish tea that really refreshed me. I finally gave in. I had a new-found love in Turkey and it was their tea. By the end of our stint in Turkey, Viraj and I were drinking at least 6-7 cups of tea a day!
Tea forms a very integral part of the Turkish lifestyle. People have cups of tea through the day. Unlike our tea, their tea is without milk and sugar, which is why they can afford to have so much tea through the day. I found it very interesting when I learnt that tea is actually a very recent addition to their lifestyle. Traditionally it was coffee. However, post the Second World War, the government found it expensive to import coffee and started encouraging people to have tea instead. Guess what? It worked! The Turks and the tea… they’re inseparable!
‘The very first attempt to grow tea on Turkish soil took place in Bursa between 1888 and 1892. It wasn’t a success since this part of the country is ecologically inadequate for growing tea. In 1924, the parliament passed a law about cultivating tea in the east of the Black Sea region. In the late 30s, 70 tons of black tea seeds were imported from Georgia in order to start nurseries in the region. In 1940, an additional law that supported the farmers and protected their rights boosted the cultivation of tea in the region. Today, 767 million m² of land is used to grow tea, and it is the second most consumed Turkish drink, after water.’
-Source click here
I came across a really nice article (you can read it here) that talks about how to make traditional Turkish tea and how it is served. For me, I loved how it made me feel like home. Tea time always brings the people and the community. In fact we had a long conversation with the shopkeeper who served us tea the first day and learnt about his life and he learnt about us.
Unfortunately, I did not buy any tea while in Istanbul, but who said I’m not going back to Turkey 😉