Tea as a Way of Life

In Turkey, one sips çay (black tea) like clockwork. And it’s about that time again — you duck into a hole in the wall tea stall. Dice clatter as retired men squat on small wicker stools, playing tavla (backgammon). They discuss earnestly, smoke absentmindedly. Waive for more çay. The patron swoops by, snatching up the tulip-shaped glasses with talon-like fingers. Turks prefer their tea strong — çay should be like tavşan kanı, “rabbit’s blood.” Sugar cubes optional. No cream. No pinkies. No limits — I once got a ride from a retired army general who, in his çay-swilling prime, downed forty five glasses per day (he told stories and chain smoked and cackled and drove twice as fast as everyone else). More than anything, sharing the brew is a binding act — as an old Turkish proverb goes, “a cup of tea commits one to forty years of friendship.” The man who ushered you in sits down, pats your hand, and smiles warmly, nodding his head in assurance — the first round is on him.

3/6 in a series on Istanbul that I’m doing for @gaptogreat