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Çay, Turkey’s brew of choice – but what is a çaycı?

The day starts with çay, the day happens in between çay, and drinking çay only stops because no one has worked out how to drink it while they’re sleeping!

Those of you who are regular visitors to Turkey will have experienced the culture of çay (Turkish tea).

“Cay içer misiniz?” (“Will you drink some tea?”)

Turks love their çay (chai) and you will be offered a delicate, tulip-shaped glass of ruby red, crystal clear çay almost every time you stop moving. It’s hard not to get caught up in the national craze and there is always time for tea!

But have you ever wondered how the çay magically appears within minutes?

Enter the çaycı

Most businesses use a çaycı, a full-time tea server, who spends the day delivering tea around the area, catering to a never-ending demand.

The tea is made in a little shop nearby and rushed to its destination on a tray.

When you accept the offer of tea in a shop without a full-time tea server, a call goes out for the çaycı to bring tea. Some will shout the orders if they are within earshot and others have a bell that is linked to the shop. Some use a basic intercom system like one used for babies.

Whichever method is used it won’t be long before the çaycı appears with your çay on one of the many styles of trays designed specifically for carrying the tea glasses.

Order your tea açık (ah-CHUK, open, weak), or koyu (koh-YOO, dark, strong), or just order çay and it will come normal strength.

Caffeine free?

Or if you would prefer caffeine free, try a herbal tea. Ada çay (sage tea), ıhlamur (linden-flower), nezaket (hibiscus), elma çay (apple tea) and many more.

It won’t take long before you will be looking forward to your tea sessions and calculating journeys in tea stops! There’s something extremely soothing about sitting in a shaded courtyard, chatting with the locals and/or friends and having your çay constantly replenished.

Making your own 

Once you’re hooked on çay you’ll want to make your own…

There are several brands of Turkish tea. Çaykur is the oldest company that produces tea in Turkey. There are also younger and equally successful ones like Doğuş.

Boil water in the lower pot of a double teapot (called a çaydanlık), Add loose-leaf tea to the top part (one desert spoon full of tea per person) and, once the water boils, add enough hot water to steep the leaves. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes.

This allows each person to have their tea as strong or as weak as they wish. Pour a quarter or half glass of the steeped tea water and fill the rest of the glass with hot water from the lower part.

The tea is served piping hot in a small, clear glass with a slight hourglass shape (also described as tulip-shaped), which you hold under the rim to avoid burning your fingers. The clear glass enables the drinker to appreciate the tea’s deep crimson colour.

And finally…

Here’s a phrase for you to learn

Çay var mı? (Is there tea/do you have tea?)

Not that you should need it very often as there is always tea!

“Çaysiz sohbet, aysiz gok yuzu gibidir”
(Conversations without tea are like a night sky without the moon)

-Folk saying from Sivas, Turkey

This article was first published on 20 August 2019.

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