Tea is an important aspect of life for people around the globe, and most cultures have created a specific ritual for their tea drinking. There’s the British four o’clock tea time, the Japanese tea ceremony, and the Chinese practice of gongfu tea service, to name a few.
One set of customs that I knew little about was that of Turkey. I have visited Romania – which was under Ottoman rule for over three centuries – many times. The Turkish influence is readily observable there in language, music, architecture, and cuisine, including tea. But still my knowledge was lacking.
It’s been said that if you want to learn about a subject, write a book about it – or a blog article! So here goes …
During one of our first trips to Romania, back in the late 1990s, we visited the city museum of Romania’s capital of Bucuresti, where I first saw some typical tea ware from Turkey. On our next trip we discovered a Turkish-owned grocery store just down the block. Amongst the many interesting foods was a big barrel of large-leafed black tea: Turkish tea. As loose-leaf tea was not yet readily available in Romania, I happily bought a half-kilo (a little over a pound). Unfortunately it turned out to be vile stuff, and I gave most of it to my in-laws to use as garden mulch.
On the same trip, I saw a nice Turkish pewter teapot in a downtown antiques shop, and purchased it on the spot. When we returned home, I found Turkish tea glasses for sale in an international grocery in Queens, New York, and promptly bought a set. Pretty, yes, but I still didn’t know much about them, although I did like to use them from time to time.
Well, I recently did some research into Turkish tea customs. First, there’s the stacked teapot and “kettle” pot, that as a set is utilized similarly to a Russian samovar: water is boiled in the bottom pot and added to tea leaves in the top pot to make a very strong, concentrated tea. The tea is served by pouring some of this concentrate from the top pot into the tea glass and then filling it up with water from the bottom pot until it reaches the desired strength, adjusting the ratio of tea to water depending on how strong you like it. (You must periodically replenish the water in the bottom pot.)
Turkish tea is made from black tea leaves, and – as they do in China – Turkish tea drinkers refer to their tea as “red” tea. The stronger the tea, the redder it is in the cup. The tea glass’ elegant hourglass shape is derived from the shape of the tulips that grow profusely in Turkey in the spring. When the tea glass is full, it is reminiscent of red tulips, a local favourite.
One never adds milk to Turkish tea, tho’ sugar or lemon are perfectly permissible. When either one is added, there is great ceremony about stirring it loudly into the tea with the accompanying silver or gold spoon, which is then placed on the accompanying high-sided saucer. The cup is filled to about an inch from the top so it can be held between forefinger and thumb without scalding as the tea is sipped.
Oh yes, and I learned one other thing: As with oolong tea, Turkish tea is “rinsed” with water from the bottom pot before it is steeped. This awakens the leaves as well as removes any harshness from them, resulting in a smooth, drinkable cup that is consumed at all hours of the day, and in almost any social situation. Now if I had only known that before I gave away all that tea for mulch …
Turkish teapot sets, as well as Turkish tea glasses, in styles ranging from simple to ornate, are available via import shops both online and traditional.
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All content Copyright 2013 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.
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