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.”


Nia McRay from @Tastes_Like_Turkey

I am a lover of words and stories, student of culture, amateur photographer, adult cross-cultural kid, English tutor to TCKs (Third Culture Kids), and aspiring foodie. We will probably be instant friends if you give me good coffee, invite me to cook with you, or start a conversation with me about personalities, culture, and how the two intersect. I’m a life-long nerd, believer, and creative-in-the-works. I am all about the journey, so traveling and cross-cultural living is always something that has captured my heart and inspired my imagination. 

In 2016, after teaching in an inner-city school and needing a change of pace, I spent a year abroad in Izmir, Turkey with a friend. I absolutely fell in love with the city and the people. The conveniences of a big city with a friendly, slow-pace-of-life atmosphere is all found between the mountains and the sea. What’s not to love? So, after my year of adventure, I knew I wanted to come back to Izmir to live. 

Positioned on the perch of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, Turkey is both a mix of cultures, and a unique culture all its own. The more I learn, the more I want to learn, and this desire to learn is what drives me to write. As a pretty quiet person, I write to learn, to discover, and to process. As someone who grew up in a cross-cultural context, Turkey’s diversity and mix of cultures is something I personally relate to. Plus, if you’ve ever tasted Turkish food, you know that it is definitely something to write home about. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Funks’ blog and to grow and learn in the process.

Catie FunkTravels Izmir Turkey

GOING HOME SERIES: 6 practical ways to destress your next expat visit ‘home’

Only 3 days into our travels to the states, stress, and anxiousness were starting to creep into my mind. Our first travels back to states after living in Turkey for a year was combined with our 1 month travels through SE Asia. While I thought it was a good idea, I was starting to see some of the holes in my preparation for our time in the states. 

I started asking myself:

How was I going to see everyone in the short time I had? Why did we pick this time to come? How could I have reflected and prepared more so I don’t feel this way next time? How was I going to get my ‘to-do list’ done while spending quality time with other? How was I going to see everyone in the short time I had? Why did we pick this time to come? How could I have reflected and prepared more so I don’t feel this way next time?

Not only was I starting to feel overwhelmed by all I wanted to do, I was frustrated in my expectations of myself and what I thought I COULD do. Up until now, all of my returns to the states the 4 years I lived abroad were as a single gal. This time there were 2 of us which just means that I literally can not just go and do like I did before. We needed to think ahead and have some stability in our plans to help us stay on the same page during our visits.

Not only was I starting to feel overwhelmed by all I wanted to do, I was frustrated in my expectations of myself and what I thought I COULD do. Click To Tweet

Catie FunkTravels Izmir Turkey


Here are 6 practical ways you can destress your next travels back ‘home’:

  1. Reflect and prioritize.

What is most important to you? What do you want to do with this time? Family? Certain friends? Enjoying food you missed? Make a list of what you would like to do then make a ‘MUST HAPPEN’ list and a ‘WOULD LIKE TOO’ list.

  1. List of people you want to see and schedule time

The temptation could be to wait until your friends back in your native home contact you. Waiting could upset you and even make you sad if your friends do not reach out to you. Instead, I suggest reaching out to the people you want to visit and encourage them to set a time.

If you are at the receiving end, I HIGHLY encourage you to communicate with your returning expat out BEFORE they come home. While you think it will magically all work out, your returning expat may be concerned about seeing everyone and making time for good, meaningful conversations. Just because your expat is visiting does not mean their schedule is free for whenever you to decide when to meet. Also, reaching out shows your expat they are loved and valued by you. Waiting for your expat friend to contact you is a test your retuning expat may not pass due to the marathon of visits they are making in their short visit.

Just remember that visiting friends and scheduling visits work BOTH ways! Don’t test each other by waiting to see who will contact who first.

Just remember that scheduling visits work BOTH ways! Don't test each other by waiting to see who will contact who first. Click To Tweet

3. Schedule time for family vacation

Going back ‘home’ for visit doesn’t always seem like a vacation, and it can be hard on the family to squeeze in time between work and daily responsibilities. If quality uninterrupted family time is important to you, schedule your visit to the states according, but also let that expectation be known to your family.


4. Schedule white space

Filling up all your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners can seem okay when you aren’t actually in your ‘home’ country, but it is a recipe for disaster.  As you plan your visit block off time for your family (especially if you are married and/or have kids) to enjoy something fun together, play games, interact and reflect together through discussions and questions.

5. Have any online purchases bought and shipped.

I have a running list of items I either want from America and/or foods I want to remember to purchase. If possible, try to purchase what you want online before getting to the states which will free up more time to spend with people, handle returns if needed, and require less shopping when you get there.

6. Handle warranty items before you go.

I packed a few items with me to the states that I knew I wanted to be replaced. All of the warranty questions where handles via customer care numbers and emails. If I had done this before I left, the items would have just been waiting for me. Instead, I had to handle them in the middle of our visit.


In the end, preparation can be helpful, but the unexpected always pop up. Schedule in that downtime or white space gives you some cushion!

  • Are you an expat living abroad? If so, where?
  • What tips do you have for visits back to your home country?
  • What steps above might you try for your next visit home?


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P.S. – This is the first post of a 6 part series called EXPAT GOING HOME SERIES. Stay tuned for the following articles:

2017 FunkTravels Catie Funk Singapore Fisherman's Wharf

GOING HOME SERIES: 6 ways to make your expat visit ‘home’ more enjoyable (Part 1)

If this is your first time living in another country, you maybe find yourself going through reverse culture shock when you return home. It is possible that feelings of frustrations and bitterness towards friends and family who may not have kept up with your life abroad.  You may also find it hard to explain the culture and life you have lived in for the last year. Because culture and questions about everyday life usually overshadow the conversations, the harder it will be sharing the deeper more meaningful moments that happened to you. In addition, personally, I have found the longer you live abroad, the less you want to talk about the small details of culture anyways.

Because culture and questions about everyday life usually overshadow the conversations, the harder it will be sharing the deeper more meaningful moments . Click To Tweet

If you are just wanting to prepare for a better return trip to your native country, preparation is key. Know that you are returning back to your native home where life has moved on without you. While you may consider your transition to be harder or greater, remember that your friends and family have also conquered their own battles. And if they have never visited your new home (or traveled much), the questions may be harder to form. Generally, the offense is unintentional.

While you may consider your transition to be harder or greater, remember that your friends and family have also conquered their own battles Click To Tweet

With preparation, expats can adjust their expectations of their friends and family back home. With even more prep, they can adjust expectations of themselves and how to help the conversations move toward the direction they need as well. 

2017 FunkTravels Catie Funk Singapore Cruise Tour

Here are 6 ways you can help those back ‘home’ understand better:

  1. Think of what questions they will ask you when you get back. (ex. What is the best and worst thing about living overseas, etc.)

Much to Jason’s sadness, I am a reflector and evaluator – see here and here (link to review post). I love setting goals even if I can’t achieve them. I like to see what we have done over the past year. All this means that we do a lot of questions answering ourselves about the good, the bad, and the ugly. In turn, it has made going home much easier because we don’t have to think about the answers to the question others will ask us!

And now, much to your advantage, I also wrote a list of them here. Take these questions and work through them alone or as a family. If your friends or family are thoughtful with their questions, your answers should be respectfully thoughtful in return.

  1. Short answers that answer the questions swiftly.

A friend of mine spent a summer in Africa, and in 6 short weeks, she grew into such a different person. Upon arriving home, she spent the next 48 hours (minus sleeping hours) talking about all that happened and what she learns. Unfortunately for her (and us), we probably tuned out about 1 hour into it.  Your friends and family are capable of lengthy discussion, but sometimes without the context to understand all you are sharing, it could be hard for them to follow along. So instead of talking about what the 30 types of olives are at the weekly market, consider talking about the market and that there are olives there. Help build a base so later you can go deeper.

Help build a base so later you can go deeper. Click To Tweet

  1. Short stories can be powerful.

Sometimes you only have 5 minutes with friends. Those passing meeting can be some of the most rewarding conversations if you prepare for them!  The usually questions begin: “You’re back! Where are you living now? Do you like it there? and how are you?” Instead of just saying “Ummm… good. It’s great”, consider a different approach.

The company I was a part of my first international move shared a great tip for expat returning home. For more meaningful short interactions, prepare 4-5 3 minutes stories that have grown you over the last year to year. Your friend says, ” How are you?” You may say, “ok” OR you can say “Actually, I have a 2 minute story to tell you about how I have learned to…. in the past year. Do you want to hear it?” Then proceed with your story.

For more meaningful short interactions, prepare 4-5 3 minutes stories that have grown you over the last year to year. Click To Tweet


2017 FunkTravels Catie Funk Singapore Merlion


  1. Plan to visit people before you get to the states.

When we first booked our 4 weeks in the states, I thought, “oh, we have plenty of time!” The first week in Louisiana felt too short, then halfway through the 2nd week in Iowa, I melted down about how we didn’t have enough time! Our problem wasn’t enough time. Our problem was not planning ahead and we assumed people would contact us or make time for us. Remember: Your friends, while they want to see you, are busy with their normal lives! If you really want to meet with people, reach out to the most important ones first. Then if there are others, meet them in groups or with other people as well.

  1. Make a mini photo book and have it ready to show people

Walgreens ran a free mini photo book (maybe 40 pictures) sale right after our wedding and I bought one for all the parents in our family and ourselves. That first summer we traveled to Turkey together for the first time and saw old friends. That photo book was so handy and I whipped it out every time we talked about our wedding. I regret to tell you I did no such thing this last visit to the states. We assume this day in age, that our social media lives are followed by everyone and that all should know what we did during our expat year. But unfortunately, that is not the case and honestly, people just forget. Having a photo book is a natural and easy way to share your lives visually with others. (Read more ways to document your time abroad.)

We assume this day in age, that our social media lives are followed by everyone and that all should know what we did during our expat year. Click To Tweet

  1. Give others AND yourselves grace.

No matter how long you spend visiting your home country, time escapes all of us. There will always be places we did go, things we didn’t do, and people we didn’t see.  And in fact, I would suggest that you do have that list of what you did and things you are thankful for while you visit. Your time home also needs to refresh you and help you process your time living in another country. So be ok with saying no and instead, resting for a day, going out to a movie or just staying home to spend time with your expat family.


  • Do you live in another country other than your native one? If so, where?
  • What ways do you prepare before going back to your native country?
  • Which one of this 6 tips stuck out to you?


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P.S. – This is the first post of a 6 part series called EXPAT GOING HOME SERIES. Stay tuned for the following articles:

Episode037 FunkTravels Podcast Expat Turkey

Episode037: When your podcast becomes a therapy session

Welcome back! September means (somewhat) cooler weather AND Jason’s birthday. We celebrated in 2 ways… 1. Submitting all of our paper work for our visa renewals! We are hopping to get a 2 year visa.  2. We enjoyed the last days of summer, sun, beach, and the sea on a boat tour with friends! We talk about both on the podcast.

Also, we celebrate our ‘official’ 1 year in Turkey! Jason and Catie reveal to each other their top 3 things they learned this last year. The conversation was a tough one as we talk about stresses of moving abroad and what that looks like for our marriage and relationships with others. Main areas we discuss are intentionality vs. passivity, language, and friends.


And don’t worry! We will get to our SEAsia tour that we took in July with our friends, Eric and Ashley.

Until then, you can always scroll back through our Instagram and Facebook accounts to see updates, pictures, and videos.

Some of our favorite quotes:

The stress of moving to a foreign country...not understanding the culture...difficulty of language, made this character trait come out more strongly. - Jason Click To Tweet

The short version is: you want to do everything, and I want to do nothing. - Jason Click To Tweet

The stress of my doing everything probably causes you to not want to do anything. - Catie Click To Tweet

I caused a lot of my own struggles with my identity... Being a believer in Jesus Christ, my identity is in him... One, I had to find my identity in Christ and two, I had to find another creative avenue where I was helping people. -… Click To Tweet

I learned how to avoid situations that would force me to learn language, which was not a good thing. - Jason Click To Tweet

Friendships take a while to become meaningful. - Jason Click To Tweet

The lack of effort needed for daily life (in another culture) can now turn into for building relationships with other people. Click To Tweet

People who have lived here many years have more energy to give to relationships because they have lived here longer. - Jason Click To Tweet

Mentioned links:

Catie’s first print article – Reminiscing Romantic Romania

Jason’s Birthday!

Listen to his last birthday celebration in Episode017

Teos Tur

Listen to our month of Airbnb private room living in Episode018


EXPAT YEARS SERIES: 3 part series sharing what we learned in our first year abroad – check below for individual links

Questions for the listeners:

  • Are you an expat living overseas? Where do you live?
  • Have you taken a recent trip that has change you? How did you adjust to going back ‘home?
  • Have you lived in another area other than ‘home’? What did you learn from living in this new place?

As always, email us your questions and we will answer them in future episode!

Like this podcast episode?! Share it!

Episode037 FunkTravels Podcast Pinterest


Recent Blog Posts:

EXPAT: Interview with ExpatFocus

WRITING: Reminising Romantic Romania

Recent Series: EXPAT YEARS

EXPAT YEARS: Our First Year Abroad (Year 1 Part 1)

EXPAT YEARS: The Truth About Living Abroad (Year 1 Part 2)

EXPAT YEARS: 10 things I have learned my first year as a full-time expat (Year 1 Part 3)

Stay tune for upcoming articles:

TRAVEL: Why you should use Local Guddy next time you travel

EXPAT: Going Home Series

  • The Going Home Series is all about how you can have the best visit back ‘home’. Catie covers both side of the spectrum to help both those in the native country and those living abroad have an easier time reconnecting and supporting each other.
  • If you are an expat going back to your native country, this is for you!
  • If you are someone who will be visiting returning expats, this is for you too!


If you are just now joining in:

We encourage you to go back into the archives and listen back to our first episode.  And we encourage you to go back and listen to Episode 9 to help get you up to speed on our big move!

You can also join in on the adventure via Facebook means you will get the first scoop and discussion on new podcasts!


We are on iTunes!

POP OVER TO LEAVE US A REVIEW ON ITUNES. This helps others find our podcast!

FOOD: Aşure – Noah’s Ark Pudding

Cheers to the first post about FOOD. Cheers to not just any food, but TURKISH food!

And yes, you read that right! We are here to chat about Aşure. So how do you say it properly? The ‘a’ is an ‘aah’ sound while the ‘new-to-you’ letter ‘ş’ is pronounced like the English ‘sh’ sound. The ş with the ‘ur’ is similar to ‘shur’. Finish it off by saying the ‘e’ like the letter ‘A’ and you basically speak Turkish now.

Ok, not really. But you at least learned a new Turkish word: ‘Aah-shOOr-EY’

First off, aşure is not just a Turkish dish. Other cultures throughout central Asia and the middle east share a similar type of dish. This dish is special to Turkey because the actual site of the historical Noah’s ark is said to be in eastern Turkey. Hence, aşure is also known as Noah’s Ark pudding. Originally a Jewish celebration, this dessert also marks the rescue of Moses from Pharaoh during which the Hebrews fasted. Sunni Muslims also connect this period during the year with the deliverance of Moses. Aşure is traditionally served on the 10th day of the Muslim month Muharrem, the first month of the Islamic calendar.

But before Moses and the deliverance of the Jews, the dessert come from the story of Noah and the great flood. When the waters receded after the great flood, Noah took whatever he had left from their food storage and toss it into one pot. As you will see below, there are quite the diversity of ingredients (some I would not normally put together!).  This large pot of food kept everyone well and alive until the waters finished receding. For this reason, aşure is usually made in large quantities and is shared with neighbors and friends standing as a symbol of friendship, diversity, and unity.


What’s in it? Quite the assortment of grains, nuts, fruits, and sugar. It may contain but isn’t limited to: walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, apricots, raisins, currants, figs, chickpeas and navy beans. Depending on the family and region, ingredients like chestnuts, lima beans, bulgur wheat and pieces of fresh coconut will also be added. Spices like cinnamon, cloves, and another lesser known spice to westerners, cardamon, can be a main contributor to the sweet taste. So basically, anything goes.

FunkTravels Asure

The great plus about living in Turkey full-time is getting a home-cooked, traditional dish of aşure hand delivered by a neighbor. Just this last week, our 3rd-floor neighbors shared this sweet gift with us.  While I enjoyed it warm and cold, Jason wasn’t a big of a fan of it either way. The taste is a little … unique, but well worth the trying!

For recipes on how to make it yourself at home, click on some of the links below:

Ozlem’s Turkish Table Recipe

Turkish Food Recipe

All About Turkey Recipe

Video of the recipe

Questions for you:

Have you tried this before? Did you like it?

What do you think? Would you try this recipe at home?

If you do, let me know how it went and what you thought about it. You can always follow us through our move from the USA to Turkey via our 50 episodes of the FunkTravels Podcast.

See you next time!