Learning about Turkish çay and Kahvesi

Turkey has a lot of culture built around making and drinking tea (çay/chai) and coffee (Türk kahvesi), making these beverages both an integral part of Turkish daily life.

So what should you know about these two great drinks?

Turkish tea (çay/chai)

Turkish tea has a very big role in the Turkish culture. It is a way of socializing and is offered as a sign of hospitality.

Conversations without tea are like a night sky without the moon.

Turkish folk saying

History of tea in Turkey

Tea passed through Turkey as part of the Silk Road trade in the 1500s, but it did not become a part of daily life until it was initially encouraged as an alternative to coffee in the 1900s.

Coffee had become too expensive, so the nation’s founder (Mustafa Kemal Atatürk) encouraged tea as its alternative. Four glasses of tea could be purchased for the price of one cup of coffee!

A tea cup is shown with Turkish tea

Similarly today, a cup of tea can be purchased at a much cheaper price than a cup of coffee.

Traditional Turkish tea: what is it and how is it served?

Traditional Turkish tea is a strong black tea that is served in small unique cups.

A variety of tea cups being sold at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
A variety of tea cups being sold at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

These cups are see-through glass and have a thin waste. This is so that they are easy to hold, when the tea cools down a bit. If the tea has not yet cooled down, you can hold the cup at the rim to keep yourself from burning.

Enjoying a delicious cup of Turkish tea
Enjoying a delicious cup of Turkish tea

How do you show you’ve finished with drinking your tea?
As a sign of hospitality, your cup will be filled again every time your tea is almost finished. In order to show that you have finished drinking your tea and would not like anymore, put your tea spoon on top of your tea glass.

Tea all the time, everywhere

This delicious black tea is a perfect way for the Turkish people to start off their day. No tea for breakfast? Then it’s not considered breakfast.

Tea served beside a simple, but delicious breakfast
Tea served beside a simple, but delicious breakfast

Although it is a staple for the first meal of the day, it’s also quite literally a staple of life in Turkey. Tea is not limited to just the morning, but is had at all points throughout and is served anywhere and everywhere.

As you walk the streets in any city of Turkey, a common sight you’ll be sure to notice among the crowds is a man or a young boy carrying a tray of Turkish tea to sell to vendors or store owners around the area.

You’ll often also see Turkish tea being consumed by a social gathering of men (known as a Kiraathane) outside of stores.

A series of tables outside to go sit and enjoy your afternoon tea
A series of tables outside to go sit and enjoy your afternoon tea

Did you purchase good quality tea?
In order to check if you’ve purchased good quality tea, put some tea in cold water. If the colour of the water changes rapidly, the tea is not good quality. Instead, the colour should change slowly.

Turkish coffee (Türk kahvesi)

Unlike Turkish tea, which is drank for socializing, Turkish coffee is drank for another reason: pleasure. It is considered a special treat.

A cup of coffee will be remembered for 40 years.

Turkish proverb

History of Turkish Coffee

Coffee was first introduced into Turkey around 1540.

The Sultan and the elite were the first to have it. Eventually, it was later consumed by the entire Ottoman Empire.

A small white porcelain cup filled to the brim with delicious Turkish coffee. It sits on a colourful mat.

Eventually, people were being hired as kahveci usta (specialty coffee makers). This was especially common in the palace or other elite places.

Coffee houses began appearing – giving a place for people to gather and discuss the news, have business meetings, or play chess or backgammon. But as these places became more popular – the authorities began to become worried.

In 1656, laws were issued by the Ottoman Grand Vizier to shut down coffee houses. They believed that these coffee houses were being used as meetings places for discussing ways to take down the Sultan.

Coffee drinking became illegal and the authorities observed coffee as a threat to the Empire! (who would’ve thought, coffee drinking is a threat to me getting acid reflux, but a threat to the empire??)

You can imagine how well this kind of law went with the citizens… riots riots riots!

These riots and the disapproval from the citizens caused the authorities to abolish their laws. However, heavy taxes were put on coffee houses.

Two small white porcelain cups filled to the brim with Turkish coffee. They sit on a colourful mat.

Turkish coffee: what is it and how is it served?

Turkish coffee is prepared using very finely ground coffee beans. This finely grounded powder is left in the coffee when it is served.

The powdered coffee is boiled with water and sugar in a cezve (a small long-handled pot with a pouring-lip that is specifically designed to make coffee. It is traditionally made of brass or copper).

Many cezves can be seen in the second row of a shelf of a stall in the Grand Bazaar
Many cezves can be seen in the second row of a shelf of a stall in the Grand Bazaar

Once the coffee begins to froth, it is taken off the heat and served in a small porcelain cup (kahve finjani).

Tasseography: what does the future hold for you?

Tasseography is a fortune-telling method that interprets patterns in tea leaves, coffee grounds, or wine sediments.

In this case, it is used for interpreting the coffee grounds left in your cup and saucer.

When someone finishes drinking their coffee, they will turn their cup upside-down on the saucer.

After waiting 5-10 minutes, someone will read their fortune based off of the symbols left by the coffee grounds in their cup and saucer.

An empty coffee cup is shown with the coffee grounds visible.
Coffee ground readings. What does the future hold?

A cup divides into 5 sections:

  1. Around the handle: love/relationships
  2. Across the handle: money/wealth
  3. Left of the handle: the present
  4. Right of the handle: the future
  5. Bottom of the cup: home/family

Bigger shapes carry more meaning than smaller shapes.

Some examples of what symbols might means:

  • Bird: news, message
  • Raven: bad news
  • Spider: money on its way
  • Pot: wedding or positive changes

Have you ever had Turkish tea or coffee? Which one did you like best?

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