T(ea) is for Turkey

Istanbul Travel Blog

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It's a very common sight in Istanbul:  a man hustles down the street, a medium-sized tray laden with small glasses hanging from his hand and swaying gently as he walks, but not nearly enough to upset the glasses (because that's the entire point of the ingenious hanging tray).  He ducks into a small shop and emerges shortly thereafter, either with a few less full glasses, or a few extra empty ones.  The tea deliverymen are kept perpetually busy, because Turkey leads the world in per capita tea consumpion (even higher than the tea-loving Brits).

It was originally a little surprising to me at first (after all, it's called *Turkish* coffee), but tea is definitely most Turks' hot beverage of choice, and they drink pretty much constantly: at breakfast, after (and sometimes during) meals, and at multiple other points throughout the day.  Social visits and informal business meetings or negotiations - no matter how brief - are almost always accompanied by a glass of tea.  Except it's often not made in-house, because proper Turkish tea involves much more than boiling water and plopping in a Lipton tea bag.  It's made with a special double kettle, where regular water is boiled in the larger, lower kettle, and a small amount is then added to loose tea leaves in the top kettle and allowed to steep.  The remaining hot water from the bottom kettle can then be used to dilute the tea to the appropriate strength.  The tea is served in small tulip-shaped glasses, with two sugar cubes on the saucer (although artificial sweetener is generally available for diabetics or calorie counters).  The glasses are small because the tea is strong (and never served with milk or lemon), but despite having asked a lot of people, I have yet to get a definitive answer as to why they're tulip-shaped.  Two of the most logical are that the shape of the glasses makes them easier to hold, and that the hourglass-type shape affects the circulation of the liquid as the glass is tilted, meaning the hottest tea reaches the lips first (not sure if I buy this).  But my personal favorite is simply that the glasses were designed to mimic 'the shape of woman'.

The other thing I have yet to figure out about Turks and their tea is how they drink it so damn fast.  It's served piping hot, and to try to avoid burning the hell out of my tongue I generally sip it slowly.  But I'm invariably the last one finished (usually by at least a minute or two).  Can you build up an immunity to scalding yourself?  Apparently so -- I guess I'll just have to up my tea consumption to match the average 8 glasses a day...
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photo by: Memo