By Zuhdi Farhan
When I first arrived in Turkey, I thought not tea, but coffee would be the most favourite drink here. But I was wrong. I also thought that both tea and coffee are drunk heavily due to cold weather. I arrived in Turkey during the cold and short days of winter. I was again wrong. Weather now becomes warmer and warmer every day in Turkey, but the amount of tea consumption of the Turkish people have not changed as I observed. As someone coming from Malaysia, a country which has the historical relations with Britain, it never occurred to me that the Turks actually out-drink the Irish and Britons in per capita tea consumption. Turkey is also the fifth highest tea producer behind India, China, Kenya, and Sri Lanka.
The tea-drinking culture among the Turks is still relatively new. It began at the end of the 19th century when the governor of Adana, Mehmet Izzet produced Çay Risalesi, Tea Pamphlet, in 1878 to inform people about the benefits of tea. Çay Evi or tea house began being opened in Sultanahmet area in Istanbul, thus the tea-drinking culture has started. It was also helped by the fact that tea was four times cheaper than coffee. Very soon Rize, the province located in the eastern part of Black Sea, became the ‘Turkish tea capital.’ Its fertile soil with rainfall volume and climate was found ideal for the cultivation and production of tea.
Serious changes in cultivating tea began in 1917, however came to a halt due to Turkish War of Independence. The first large scale cultivation began in 1937 while the first tea factory was built in 1947. Turkey started to export its tea in 1965, after fully satisfying local tea market. Çay-Kur (General Directorate of Tea Operations) was founded in 1971 in order to coordinate the cultivation and tea processing. The state-owned body enjoyed the monopoly over tea market until 1984 when the industry was opened to private enterprise. Today, Çay-Kur still controls nearly 60% of domestic tea market. Even the football club playing in Turkish Super Lig, Rizespor are sponsored by Çay-Kur since 1991 and renamed Çaykur Rizespor. They have been using tea leaves on their badge since the establishment of the club in 1953.
There is a special way of preparing tea. A çaydanlik, special double-tiered pots would be required to brew tea. The bottom pot is filled with water and set on fire until water boils. The top pot is filled with dry tea leaves. The boiled water then is poured into the top pot, allowing the tea leaves to steep for 15-20 minutes. The tea then is poured into tulip-shaped glasses with hot water added to dilute the tea according to one’s preference. There are two ways of drinking tea. The first one is by adding sugar cubes into tea while the second way is called kitlama where you put sugar cubes between your tongue and cheek and then drink tea. Sometimes, tea is also drunk with lemon, but not milk.
Turkish tea is supposed to be enjoyed while still hot. The usage of clear tulip-shaped glass is for admiring the colour of tea. Serving tea has become the Turkish tradition in showing hospitality and friendship. There is no specific time for tea, nor there is any bad time for tea. A saying in Turkey goes, ‘conversations without tea are like a night sky without the moon.’ The sight of men enjoying tea in Turkey could be compared with seeing the Malaysians enjoying themselves at Mamak stalls or street warongs although this is not exactly the same.
Writer is pursuing his Bachelors degree in History and Civilization at International Islamic University Malaysia