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Tea and coffee drinking in Turkey

A civilised past time


If you’ve been to Turkey then you’ll be familiar with their love of tea and coffee drinking. It’s a practice that is woven deeply into Turkish culture, and everyone does it, all day long. It’s just a guess, but it makes sense that the cultural influence of Islam, which forbids alcohol, means that at some point tea and coffee (or shall we say caffeine) became the social drug of choice. In Istanbul, of course, alcohol is freely available and regularly consumed by non-Muslims, but many restaurants actually don’t serve it. Tea and coffee is found everywhere, and I found it to be quite a civilised past time.

Black, strong and sweet

Turkish coffee is black, strong and if you choose, sweet. It’s still prepared as it was in the 1600s when the first coffee house opened in Istanbul, which means you need to be careful of that last sip, because the finely ground coffee remains in the cup. I learned this the hard way. It was traditionally followed by a piece of Turkish Delight, but these days anything sweet can do the job. I recommend baklava - a syrupy crispy phyllo pastry treat. (Interesting fact: It was the Ottomans that first introduced coffee into Europe.)

Tea for friendship


Turkish tea, or çay,(pronounced chai, but nothing like the Indian chai) is black tea grown along the Black Sea and it’s drunk without milk. Tea drinking is a big part of Turkish hospitality, and it’s served in curvy, tulip shaped glasses, which are simply, too beautiful to refuse. There are also many other herbal, fruit and spice teas to choose from, but the traditional and most commonly served is the Turkish tea. Tea drinking goes extremely well with nargile smoking and backgammon. Head down to the nargile houses in Beyoglu to see for yourself.

And remember, if you share a cup of tea with someone, you’ll be friends for forty years (so the Turks say). So choose carefully.


[Coffee photograph from Rick Steve's article.Tea photograph by Deni Archer]

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