Drinking tea has long been a part of Turkish culture.

It is said that tea arrived from China in what is now present day Turkey via the Silk Road. The Turkish word for tea is çay, which is very similar to the Chinese word.

During the Ottoman Empire attempts were made to cultivate tea in Turkey, but it was difficult to find the right conditions. Today tea is cultivated successfully in the region of Rize in the northeast of Turkey, about 120 kilometres from the border with Georgia; and tea production has become an important sector of the Turkish economy not only meeting the demands for private consumption but for export.

Tea and Turkish culture

Tea and the drinking of tea have become such an integral part of Turkish society that no matter where you go, you will be offered a glass of tea or one will be simply placed next to you.

There is no occasion or event – from weddings to funerals – where tea is not served, and there is no part of the day tea when tea is not offered. Tea is served not only during and after meals, but also on occasions such as visiting guests. Although the tea itself is made without sugar, it is always drunk with sugar.

How to prepare tea

There are several ways to prepare tea, sweeten it and drink it.

In many households, the tea is prepared using two pots or pans: one for brewing the tea and one for hot water. In restaurants or in public places where a lot of tea is consumed, the tea is prepared using a semaver. With a semaver the tea is brewed in the pot or kettle on the top of the semaver, while the water is kept at boiling boiling point in the lower part. The tea on the top of the semaver is then mixed or diluted with the boiling water. Depending on how you prefer your tea, you can mix a lighter, weaker tea with more water (açık çay) or a darker, stronger tea (koyu çay).     

Glasses not cups

In Turkey tea is traditionally drunk from glasses and not from cups. You can sweeten the tea directly with sugar, or bite a piece of sugar before taking a sip of tea. The second option has the advantage that you don’t consume quite as much sugar as is actually necessary to enjoy the tea.

Tea is also traditionally drunk without milk. In the meantime, however, many other varieties of tea and ways of drinking tea have found their way into everyday life.

Iced tea in the summer

In recent years a relatively new way of enjoying tea, especially in the hot summer months, is iced tea. The brewed, still hot tea is poured into molds, sugar is added, as well as lemon and whatever other flavours people prefer.  Water is then added and the mold is placed in a freezer until it is frozen. It is then eaten like an ice cream or prepared and drunk as an ice shake.

The days when tea drinking was limited to black tea, which was refined with lemon or peppermint to give it a different taste are long gone. Nevertheless, traditional black will never disappear from Turkish society.