TasteslikeTurkey NiaMcRay Izmir Turkey Çay Tea Time

CULTURE: Tea Time in Turkey

When I lean out on my balcony and listen to the sounds of Izmir, they are abundant.

I hear the stray dogs in the park outside my apartment barking, chasing cars. I hear the call to prayer, echoing across the valley, the melodies bouncing between the mountains. I hear the breeze off the sea, rustling leaves. I hear the sound of children playing, of car horns, of stray cats screeching.

Above it all, a light tinkling sound, like a windchime. Like the uncontrollable laughter of fairies, or the ringing of a distant silver bell comes the sound I’ve come to love the most: the sound of çay [pronounced the same as “chai”] spoons clinking against the glass as people stir the sugar into their tea. It is the school bell for life lessons, the gong for heated debates, the signal that work has paused, and the doorbell for the gateway to new relationships to be opened.

TasteslikeTurkey NiaMcRay Izmir Turkey Çay Tea Time

Çay and Hospitality Culture in Turkey

Hoş geldiniz! In Turkish, that’s “You have arrived pleasantly” or simply, “Welcome!” As a westerner living in Turkey, the most impactful difference in culture for me has been the idea of hospitality, which can start with this simple phrase. In the States, someone is hospitable if they invite you over and offer you something to eat or drink, or if they bring you a meal when you are going through a rough time.

The idea of hospitality runs much deeper in Turkey. It is an attitude about time that is driven from a heart bent toward hospitality. Hospitality doesn’t have to be something meticulously planned out (although it certainly can be!). Rather, a posture of hospitality is one open to connecting with people in meaningful ways, allowing one’s schedule to be interrupted for the sake of the person in front of you.

TasteslikeTurkey NiaMcRay Izmir Turkey Çay Tea Time

Few things exemplify this as much as çay zamanı, or tea time, in Turkey.

Tea is quite possibly the easiest thing to find in Turkey. Here in Izmir, as you walk along the seaside, tea sellers call out loudly, letting you know you can stop them and get a hot cup. Every restaurant, every café has it. It is a must-have when picnicking or grilling out with friends and family. Everyone drinks a few glasses at breakfast, and it’s almost as important as a smoke break during work. It is a staple in the home. In fact, Turks drink more tea per capita than any other country in the world. Yes, an average Turk drinks more tea than the Chinese, British, or Irish by far.

On average one person will drink the tea from nearly 7 pounds of tea leaves each year! I have heard from several people here: “Oh, yes. I drink up to 20 cups of çay each day.” Of course, not everyone drinks twenty glasses each day, but it is such a plentiful drink here, it is easy to see how one could easily do so.

Çay is one of the drinks of hospitality in Turkey. If you are invited to someone’s home, expect to be offered çay. If you finish your meal at a restaurant, a complimentary glass of çay will be brought to everyone at your table so that your conversation can continue.  If you stop by a shop and start up a conversation with the shopkeeper, he will offer you to sit wherever may be possible in the cramped space, and bring you an hourglass-shaped cup of çay on an ornate saucer with a tiny spoon and one or two sugar cubes alongside it. In fact, I haven’t entered a rug shop where I was not offered a glass of the deep red drink as the owner pulled out rug after rug of various designs, reading my eyes to narrow down his display to designs I gravitated towards.

This is how Turkish society runs: fueled by tea. Even though it is highly caffeinated, the calming effects of tea make this drink, and the culture it inhabits, a “slow down, have a sip, stay a while” atmosphere. When you are offered a cup of çay, you are invited to slow your busyness and truly be with those around you.

Over a strong and flavorful glassful, you may find yourself sharing stories from your childhood before you’ve exchanged names with your fellow drinker. There is something beautiful and deeply human about sharing a moment in which a stranger becomes an acquaintance – or even a friend. Most of the experiences I’ve had like that in Turkey have been over a glass of çay. It’s actually the most-drunk beverage in the country, besides water. And though this is a common experience today, this wasn’t always the case.

History of Tea in Turkey

Of course, as Turkey has been the connector between east and west for most of history, located in the most crucial area of the silk road, tea has been moving through Turkey for over two millennia. Surprisingly, however, tea did not become a part of everyday Turkish life until the early twentieth century when the government made efforts to grow the crop in northern Turkey where tea production now booms.

Rize, one of the three major tea-producing cities of Turkey that borders the Black Sea, is home to 60% of tea production in the country, which supplies about 260,000 tons of that lovely leaf per year. Due to the demand for tea domestically, very little is exported, despite Turkey being the fifth largest producer of tea world-wide. So, if you are looking for some of that famous Rize çay, it may be hard to find outside of the country.

If you do find some, however, you’ll want to brew it right.

How Turkish Tea is Brewed:

One of the most unique things about Turkish tea compared to its counterpart in other countries is the way it is brewed. Firstly, it is brewed in a double-boiler kettle called a çaydamlık. The bottom kettle is filled with water, and the smaller, top kettle is filled with the dry black tea leaves. As the water in the bottom kettle boils, it slowly roasts the tea leaves, and you can smell the rich flavor. Once the water has boiled, water from the bottom kettle is added to the tea leaves to steep while the bottom kettle continues to boil. This creates a dark tea concentrate in the top kettle.

TasteslikeTurkey NiaMcRay Izmir Turkey Çay Tea Time

When my Turkish tutor taught me how to correctly brew tea, I got the sense that she deemed this one of the more important cultural lessons she would give me. Indeed, it has become a useful skill to have. I have found that there is never a wrong time or season to make a çaydamlık full of çay and be ready to invite someone to have several glasses with you.

The çay is then served in an hourglass-shaped cup that is reminiscent of the Ottoman tulip. Traditionally the çay concentrate is poured to the top of the “hips” of the glass, or even to the middle of the “waist” of the glass (depending on how strong you want your tea). The rest of the glass is filled with boiling water. Even diluted by the water, the tea is pretty strong. As these traditional glasses have no handle, one of the skills that must be acquired quickly by the Westerner in Turkey is the ability to hold a hot glass filled with freshly steeped tea by the rim and sip from it.

TasteslikeTurkey NiaMcRay Izmir Turkey Çay Tea Time

There is a variety of ways to take one’s çay: light-colored, medium, or very dark (also called rabbit’s blood for the dark red color), with or without sugar (stirred into your tea with those dainty spoons, or, like some older folks like to do, stuck between your front teeth or in your cheek), even sometimes with lemon, but never with milk.

However you take your çay, remember to take the moment to slow down, enjoy someone else’s company, and have a few glasses. For, as the Turkish adage goes, “conversations without tea are like a night sky without the moon.”

COVID19 Turkey expat

COVID-19 + Turkey + Expat (Update 1)

Back from the depth of newish motherhood, language learning (yet again) and what life looks like for our expat family living in Turkey during the COVID-19 pandemic

If you are new here, welcome, and if you are surprised to see a new post, THANK YOU for sticking around. You see, motherhood is full-time work… motherhood and living in another country can feel like double time… FIRST TIME motherhood VIA adoption AND living in another country means a lot has just been neglected when it comes to our website. I think my last post was just over a year ago, but we did do some fun videos mid-year!

There are so many things to write and say but the most pressing one I felt should be shared (and maybe the last one you want to read about!) is COVID-19. While it may be interesting to our non-Turkey followers, I thought this may be of more interest to our English speaking expats living in Turkey.

First, let’s catch up on the COVID-19’s arrival to Turkey. For this timeline, I found the DailySabah and Wikipedia (oh the irony here) were helpful resources. I actually started this post a week ago and have be updating it as I come back to it. We are now 2 week into the ‘stay home’ and ‘self-isolation’ period. In this time, Turkey has jumped from 89 confirmed cases to 7402. This is not to scare anyone but it is to be expected that once you can actually start testing for the virus then the numbers will increase.  (If you want a timeline from China to the present day, I found this article to be a good start.)

The timeline in Turkey:

  • February 3: Ankara stopped all flights to and from China. 
  • February 23: It closed all air, land and railway crossings from Iran.
  • February 27: Turkey established field hospitals at its border gates with Iran, Iraq and Georgia. 
  • February 29: All passenger traffic between Italy and Turkey was stopped.
  • March 10: The first case tests positive. (From what I understand, this is when Turkey actually started testing for COVID-19.)
  • March 12: Turkey closes all schools starting on the 14th, the postponement of public officials’ travels abroad and the playing of sports matches without fans. Turkey temporarily suspended the activities of entertainment venues such as bars, casinos, night clubs, museums and libraries where many people come together. They also banned public gatherings and pilgrimages, implements health checks at the borders.
  • March 13: All arts and culture events were postponed until the end of April. The number of COVID-19 cases rose to five in Turkey.
  • March 15: The number of COVID-19 patients in Turkey reached 18. 
  • March 16th: Religious authorities announced that community prayers, including Friday prayers, would not meet. Turkey closes coffee shops, cafes, cinemas, theaters, concert halls, wedding halls, baths, sports halls, indoor children’s playgrounds and more. The Minister of Health announced that the number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 increased to 98 and Turkey lost its first patient, an 89-year-old citizen.
  • March 20: The government encourages everyone to “stay home” and “self-isolate”.
  • March 22: Those who are 65 years and older are told to stay home… maybe a little hard to implement when the old ladies hit you with a walking stick… BUT it has also brought back one of my favorite things here – basket deliveries!
  • March 23: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Level 3 COVID-19 Health Notice for Turkey and warned travelers to avoid all nonessential travel to Turkey. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced that 3,672 tests have been carried out over the last 24 hours and 293 new [COVID-19] cases were identified. He also wrote that despite our best efforts, 7 more succumbed to the disease. AND we finally got anti-virus test kits sent over from China.
  • March 24: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Turkey has increased by 293, making a total of 1,529. The number of deaths has risen to 37.
  • March 26: Turkey has 2,433 diagnosed cases and 59 dead. Schools and universities closures have been extended to possibly April 30.
  • March 28: All international flights have been shut down(besides a few exceptions) and restrictions placed on inter-city travel . 7402 cases of COVID-19 and 108 related deaths in Turkey

HOW DOES IT AFFECT TURKS? 

Turks pride themselves on their cleanliness. Their homes are immaculate, shoes come off outside the door, and they have a deep love of their lemon “cologne” given to guests upon entering their homes. The main difference between perfume and kolonya is its ratio of oils to alcohol. Some kolonya can be up to 80% alcohol. Experts say this serves as an excellent preventative measure in spreading viruses and bacteria. Just don’t actually DRINK pure alcohol to ward off the virus

Turkey has also been taking extreme measures to disinfectant public areas which has been applauded by WHO (World Health Organization).

I am not Turkish and neither is my husband. But just like everywhere else, COVID is taking a toll on people. There is fear, concern, and the struggle between needing to work and trying to self-isolate. Lots of places have closed by government mandate, but even more that have temporarily closed because they just can’t stay open. While we didn’t run out of toilet paper, there was no flour or pasta to be found one day I went to the market. Here are a couple of pictures from my local store back on March 14th ish.

COVID19 Turkey expat

COVID19 Turkey expat

 

When it comes to self-isolation… some (I would even dare say the majority) are doing well. But people have to work, get food… survive.  However, there are some things that are still happening I don’t understand… Weekly markets are still happening. Restricted hours vs. closing. As well, there are still a good number of people out when I have to finally get out to run an errand.

The government has announced a TL 100 billion ($15.3 billion) economic package intended to protect Turkey from the financial effects. The package includes the postponement of tax duties, loans and social insurance payments as well as many incentives for Turkish businesses and citizens.

Even phone companies are pitching in by changing their names to support the “Stay Home” requests with “Evde Kal” or like below “Hayat Eve Sığar

COVID19 Turkey expat

 

HOW DOES IT AFFECT US AS EXPATS?

This article sums it up well for expats that are supposedly “stuck” in Turkey. We have lived here 3.5 years now and have no plans to leave during this time. Most other expats we know are here to ride it out too. Everything has shut down so quickly that it would be difficult to get out and probably not the wisest at this time either. Plus, we actually can not leave the country because of our adoption with Sofia. 

If you are a foreigner living in Izmir, Turkey, here are some action steps our embassy recommended:

U.S. citizens who are considering returning to the United States are urged to work with their airlines to make travel arrangements while flights are still available.  

Otherwise, the US Embassy sent out these action steps to citizens living in Turkey. I found this information and links could be helpful to any foreigner living in Turkey right now.

What this means for Jason: 

Since Jason has always worked online via his USA based business, not much has changed for us. We are thankful that his job is still in full swing and that he got a few new jobs to work on before things have gotten bad.

What this means for a Catie (me):

I finished my Turkish classes (which were every day) back at the end of January. We do have a house helper that comes to help during the week but isn’t coming this week. I have mostly stayed homed and took some measures to work on being prepared for a potential lockdown.  My role looks more like caring for Sofia and less time working on my side projects.

What this means for Sofia: 

We are blessed that our 16-month-old daughter Sofia is at an age that she doesn’t fully beg to go out to the park. But it’s hard because she is still active and loves seeing people and new things. Our apartment has a large terrace and we have rearranged Jason’s office so that we have full access to it. Thankfully the weather has warm up a little bit and we can enjoy it more.  She has been confined to our apartment and while we did take her our for a few walks before, we are a little warier of it now.  

Our daily life right now:

We have stocked up a good bit of groceries and other necessities, as well as prepared for April’s rent and bills, and have cash on hand for emergencies. We usually have help during the week to watching Sofia, but Jason and I are adjusting our “stay home” routine.

There are still beautiful moments of joy and laughter as we look around (virtually) and see who is still here in Turkey, and how we can help and support each other. It’s hard. But seeing God at work in the center of it is beautiful.

Here are some recent joys:

  • SO MANY COMPANIES have opened up free services and subscriptions during this time. I have a list below.
  • Seeing our daughter grow and learn new things every day. The other day she said the word guitar (crazy).
  • We have a balcony area that is great for Sofia to play outside on good weather days!
  • My favorite and we haven’t missed a night yet! Every night at 9 pm, everyone gathers on their balconies to applaud the healthcare professionals. It is so great to see Turkey rally together in this way!!!
  • The local churches are keeping in touch and meeting online now. Thank you technology!
  • Right now I’m thankful not to have been in quarantine for 2 months already
  • And I don’t have to worry about having enough TP in Turkey
  • Praying through this time using a sweet little prayer guide! (Thanks Lifeway!)COVID19 Turkey expat

What you can do from your home:  

COVID19 Turkey DevletOpera

Just a couple of pictures of our self-isolation time below!

COVID19 Turkey expat

COVID19 Turkey expat

COVID19 Turkey expat

 

Finally, stay home and stay safe! We have a long way to go until we are back to normal.

Please let me know how you are doing and if you have updates or more resources I can share here!