Travel,  Turkey,  UNESCO Heritage

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul | Drenched in Turkish Tea And Sugar Cubes

From the moment we landed in Istanbul to the time we left, the two things that come to mind are the constant servings of Turkish tea and Turkish coffee – everywhere and at all times. This post handles only Turkish tea. Turkish coffee, for me, is too much and too strong to handle. Entering the Grand Bazaar or the Kapali Carsi (Kapalıçarşı, meaning covered bazaar), I was immediately pulled into the crowd. The non-stop hankering from the shop keepers trying to lure us into buying their ware, the crumbling ceiling desperately holding on to the main structure and giving away the faint traces of the grandeur of the mosaic art that must have engulfed the entire Grand Bazaar once upon a time… the non-stop pouring of Turkish tea – I was captivated from the very moment I stepped on the first brick of this enormous Bazaar.  Turkish tea is not only a part of Turkish culture and tradition, it also symbolises Turkish hospitality and has many social connotations. The first thing that is served to a guest who comes home, or to any tourist that enters a shop, is the tea. Tea breaks barriers here and binds people from different faith, culture, religion to speak a common language. Çay, as it is called, generally refers to the Black tea and is served in the famous tulip-shaped glasses. All I could see around me were hanging trays with 4-6 glasses of Çays being taken from one shop to the other. The man from the tea shack would systematically bring in filled glasses of tea and would serve the shop keepers and all the tourists who visited the shops and would eventually take away the empty glasses once they were done. A few minutes later, another fresh tray of Turkish tea would arrive. As if there was a set formula that monitored the rhythm of this entire tea-serving mechanism.

What surprised me was that I didn’t see anyone paying for the tea, yet glasses of tea would appear and the empty glasses would disappear like magic. I tried to follow one of the tea-servers with an intention of making a video, but the enitre act happened so fast. There was no time for posing, enacting, pretending etc. There would be someone in the tea shop making the tea continuously. Instead of regular tea pots, the Turkish tea is made in special double stacked kettles called çaydanlık (the brass pots that you see in the above left picture). The bottom part of çaydanlık is used for boiling the water while the upper portion is used for brewing the tea. Another staff is engaged in continuously washing the empty glasses (below).

While the tea is being prepared, freshly washed plates are stacked onto the tray (below) and then the glasses of tea plop onto its respective plate before it embarks on its swinging journey to the person who’s placed the order. Everybody gets the tea that they have ordered (with or without sugar, with or without lime, or both) – there’s no mistake ever. I did manage to make a 15 seconds video on Instagram of this tea-making performance – it does give an idea of the rhythm that had me glued on. On some days, more than 2,000 glasses of tea have to be prepared, even in a small tea shop.

If I don’t mention the bowls of sugar cubes, my Çay story will remain incomplete. Walking the streets of Istanbul, I realised one thing – here, a bowl of sugar cubes stand side by side with a salt shaker in every dining table. Oh, I forgot to mention how an account is being kept on how many glasses of tea are being consumed in a shop. As Murat Ghureli who has a shop called Iznik Works in Grand Bazaar, explained to me later – there’s a small bowl at the door of each shop. Every time the man from the tea shop serves tea, he drops a small plastic coin in that bowl – each coin corresponding to each glass of tea and the shop keeper pays the tea stall owner at the end of the day. We did spend a lot of time in Ghureli’s shop, drinking a lot of tea and a lot of plastic coins accumulated by his door. A small ‘plastic’ investment on his part considering the amount of dollars I ended up spending. It’s all done now. So, let some more fresh batches of Turkish tea keep brewing and in case you’ve missed out the video, here it is!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: Please note that this post is not a sponsored post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. I was in Turkey as a guest of Turkish Airlines (organised by Burson-Marsteller) and visited their flight catering company Turkish Do & Co and the Turkish Technic. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.

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