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Friendship in a glass
Friday, November 9th, 2012

By Sudha Mathew

Scene 1 – After 20 hours of travel and what feels like an endless ride from Nevşehir airport to the hotel in Göreme, I am murderously questioning my sanity and incurable wanderlust.  My husband is sitting as far away as he can from me in the minicab.

Scene 2 – It is five minutes since we reached the hotel. The corners of my mouth are moving upwards towards a smile.

The reason behind this volte-face lies in a glowing amber glass curved seductively like a belly dancer’s waist.

Turkish Tea

Looking like a load of unwashed laundry, we walked into the hotel with long faces expecting to start with paperwork. The owner’s nephew was at the front desk. He waved our passports away, sat us at a table and served us tea in tiny transparent glasses. As the warmth spread from my fingertips all the way to my belly, it sunk in that I was finally in one of my dream destinations, Turkey. And poof…just like that my holiday started. This hospitality and kindness of the Turkish people was something that we experienced throughout the trip. And most of the time it started with a simple question, “will you have some tea?”


Tea is even served on the long distance buses, as it is unthinkable to travel so far without a sustaining glass of tea. With such a strong tradition, I was surprised to hear that coffee was preferred till World War 1 when Turkey lost its coffee growing areas. Their legendary leader Kemal Ataturk then urged people to start drinking tea, mostly grown around the Black Sea area.  There’s a similarity between India and Turkey when it comes to tea. Both countries call it chai though it is spelt as çay in Turkish. But unlike India where the quality of tea varies wildly from shop to shop, I can honestly say that I didn’t have even one badly made glass of tea in my 10 days across the country.

Wares at the Grand BazaarLike everyone who visits the capital city, Istanbul I too paid my homage to the Grand Bazaar. Reminiscent of our Indian markets but far more imposing and cleaner, the bazaar dates back to 1461 and has played host to soldiers, slaves and traders of most nationalities. Some of the most expensive carpets in Turkey are sold in the Aladdin’s cave like shops here.  A Turkish carpet was the only must-buy item on my shopping list so I went into a nice looking shop. After ten minutes of browsing, the shopkeeper invited us to sit down comfortably and have a cup of tea while discussing carpets. And after the first glass there came a second and then a third. I was so charmed that I almost bought a very pricey carpet. Luckily my sensible husband dragged me away.

Only if the shopkeeper thinks you are serious about buying and not just eyeballing his merchandise will he extend an offer of tea and a seat. Be sure to use your India-honed bargaining skills, as the Istanbul merchants are more than a match for our own. If you want to move a notch up in their eyes, decline the predictable offer of apple tea and ask for authentic Turkish tea. Apple tea is an herbal tea and is almost exclusively had by tourists. It is nowhere as nice as the real çay.

Turkish Teapot

Though the tea is full flavoured, it is no hardship to drink it every few hours.  A common sight in Turkey is groups of elderly men fuelling their chat sessions with glasses of amber liquid. If you are at someone’s home and if you really want to stop the flow of tea, put a teaspoon over your glass.

Turkish tea is served without milk and with two sugar cubes on the side. It is brewed using two stacked kettles. Tea leaves are placed in the upper one and water in the lower. Once the water in the lower kettle boils, some of it is poured into the one above and left to steep. The residual water is used to dilute the tea as per individual preferences. Served in transparent tulip-shaped glasses without handles, it has to be held by the rim to avoid burning your fingertips.

In Turkey, when someone offers you tea, don’t refuse it even if you are not a tea drinker. It is more than just an offer of a refreshing cuppa. The person is inviting you to engage with him. Who knows where it may lead – friendship, business, official help… the possibilities over a cup of tea are limitless in Turkey.

Images Courtesy: KevinPiranoQuinn and Joana Hard.

This article first appeared on Chai with Lakshmi, an online talk show channel here .

Want more? Read another of my articles on Turkey here.

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About me

The wise man travels to discover himself - JR Lowell


My name is Sudha Mathew. I'm an ex-banker who quit the rat race after a decade to follow my passion for travel and to combine it with my experience in understanding client requirements and exceeding their expectations.


While our content is mostly about the holiday experience, the accommodation and services, there's so much more to a journey. I have discovered a whole new me through travel. So I've reserved this corner of the website to share the unexpected aspects of travel. This space is also to hear from you about your journeys and discoveries. Bon Voyage!

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