Friday, 12 February 2016

Rabbit's Blood

So... Welcome to Turkey!
If you have heard this greeting phrase too many times, maybe, it already started to sound a bit of a cliché and cold. Would a glass of hot Turkish tea be a warmer gesture?

Yes, we, Turks, drink tea and try to offer it to our friends, neighbors and guests. We love enjoying a few glasses of tea to warm up our conversations, when we are together with other people. A Turkish meal can only be friendly concluded after a few sips of tea. Some people are addicted to it and can only start functioning in the morning after a hot glass of well brewed Turkish tea. Tea is as crucial in our daily lives as air and water. You can say, we can hardly survive without tea.
Was it always like this? Well, tea was not a mystery to the Turks in the late Ottoman times. It made its way into the Ottoman culture from the Chinese, Indian and Persian sources. Coffee, introduced to the palace of Kanuni Sultan Süleyman (Suleiman the Magnificent) and spread all around Anatolia during the 16th century, became more difficult to obtain from the lands that the Ottoman Empire had lost during the 1st World War. Turks were left heavily wounded and their homeland was invaded all around by the allies. Still, public demand for a hot beverage was alive and strong. When the Turkish War of Independence was over with the decisive victory of the Turkish Nation and the republic was founded on October the 29th, 1923, a beneficial substitute for coffee could be a solution to problems like unemployment related domestic migration. An agricultural survey had already been carried out at the East Black Sea region before the 1st World War ended. What the experts of the agricultural faculty from Istanbul had found was promising. Black Sea coast of Northeast Anatolia was offering suitable ecology and climate for tea and citrus. The young Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) issued a law in 1924 to start and support producing tea, hazelnut, orange, tangerine and lemon in Rize. The first production of black tea was only possible in 1938. It was only in 1963, when the demand for tea in Turkey was completely supplied by domestic production. Since the initiation by the TBMM in 1924, cultivation, reaping, production and sales of this Rize tea have been totally under protection and control of the Turkish State, until December 1984. Only then, private brands were allowed to cultivate, produce and sell tea in the national market. Still, besides a few private labels, majority of the tea production in Turkey is in the hands of the state. Our favorite brand "Çaykur" is the name of the biggest tea company in Turkey, entirely an organ of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock. Several different products of Çaykur, with distinctive smells and tastes, can be found on the supermarket shelves, next to some other fine tea by private brands today.
The way we, Turks, prepare and serve tea is slightly different than those of the eastern -the true origin of tea- and the western cultures. First, we love black tea. It was only about 3 decades ago when Green tea and iced tea met the Turkish people. Although they were very welcome, when you pronounce "çay" to a Turkish person, the image that will appear in their mind will neither be a pale green and yellow aromatic drink served in a fine porcelain with a ceremonial attitude, nor a tall chilled glass full of ice cubes and lemon slices diffused inside the lightest shade of orange. Turkish way of brewing, serving and drinking tea may not bear a visual homage to this healthy and soothing drink of centuries, but is sincere for sure.
The most common technique to brew tea in Turkey is with a "çaydanlık", teapot. Some tea enthusiasts enjoy their brews from a porcelain teapot. However, generally, a Turkish çaydanlık consists of 2 metal container parts. The bigger part at the bottom is utilized for boiling water only and has no particular name. Slightly smaller part on top is where we brew the tea with the boiled water, and is called a "demlik", literally an infuser. So, why two separate pieces? Here comes one of the fun characteristics of Turkish tea! Have you ever heard someone at a "kahvehane", "kıraathane", "pastane" or a "lokanta" in Turkey call for an "açık çay"? Açık, does not only mean open in Turkish; when you want to address a beverage's weaker aroma, lighter color or lesser strength you say it is açık. Some of us prefer their tea lighter than normal. How can you customize the strength of tea while serving? By adding hot water of course. So, you need boiling water before you serve your tea according to your guests' preferences.
Another, a little more expensive or elite, if you like, therefore almost extinct style of brewing and serving tea in Turkey is with a "semaver". Semaver, Samovar in Russian, is a bigger and more complicated container device. It has its own source of heat, generally and traditionally coal, in the middle and can contain a bigger amount of hot water around it. When the flames in its burning chamber in the core go off, the chimney on top is replaced with the teapot and the tea is left to brew. Wealthy and crowded Turkish families in the past did not have huge hi-tech TV sets to be trapped in their couches for hours at night before it, but used to have semavers and enjoy tea from it. So, if you are visiting Turkey as a family of more than 2 or are in a group, and have a tendency to enjoy Turkish tea together, and if you come across Turkish tea served in semavers somewhere, maybe you will feel lack of the nostalgic smell of coal as they are mostly electric powered these days, but will definitely experience a Turkish tea event.
You may be responded with a puzzled face when you ask for milk with your tea in a local and small scale enterprise like a "kahvehane (coffee house)" or a "çay bahçesi" (tea garden). Turkish consumers do not add milk in their tea, only some sugar, maybe...
This young but radical tradition of tea drinking in Turkey, mandates it to be served boiling hot in a specific shape of glass. This tulip shaped petite glass is called "ince belli", "slim waisted" literally, and can have a volume between 150ml and 200ml. Holding it firmly with all your fingers and palm closed around can burn your hand. No, tea gardens in Turkey do not engrave a warning like "Caution! Hot content" on their glasses and you can not sue a tea garden in Turkey for burning your own hand on a tea glass. Better use your index finger and thumb like tweezers to gently grip the glass by the rim. In a few minutes, the whole glass will cool enough to be comfortably held by all fingers. What a warm feeling, if you're back indoors on a cold winter day!
Çay goes best with a crunchy simit. Simit is a traditional Turkish delicacy, a circular bread covered with sesame seeds and molasses. If you ever happen to take a boat trip along or across Bosphorus, make sure to buy 2 simits before you get on, 1 for yourself and the other for the seagulls that will accompany the boat, and a glass of tea from the walking tea-men on the deck.
Oh, if you want to make a proud impression during a "tea event" in Turkey, order or ask for your tea saying "I want mine to be TAVŞAN KANI!" with a determined manner. It sounds savage but we call perfectly brewed tea "rabbit's blood". No animals are harmed for tea, it's just a metaphor.
We hope you will be able get a decent taste of Turkish daily life while you are here.