#FoodCulture - Turkish Tea and Coffee, featuring Ankara DC
One of my favorite memories from visiting Istanbul a few years back is sitting in the small cafes in the alleys, sipping tea, and watching life go by. Coffee and tea is had around the world, but if you have visited Turkey, you can easily see that they take it very seriously. Locals reading the morning paper; old and young friends meet and laughing; a game of backgammon; all accompanied by a cup of tea are common sights.
Turkish coffee and tea are well known for their robust flavors, and the preparation and consumption of coffee and tea are both integral to Turkish culture and daily life. After enjoying a fantastic brunch at Turkish restaurant Ankara with endless cups of tea, and a cup of strong Turkish coffee complete with fortune reading, I was curious to learn more about the importance of coffee/tea in Turkish culture. I sat with Erin Gorman (co-owner along with her husband Utku Aslanturk), to learn a bit more about this …over a cup of tea, of course!
Let’s start with tea. Erin explained to me that in Turkey, drinking tea is an all-day affair starting with breakfast, continuing through the day until bed time. And this tea is no tea in a bag dunked in hot water. Erin explained that the preparation of the tea is also a fairly complicated procedure, requiring the use of 2 ‘kettles’ stacked on top of each other (the base being the “samovar”), with the boiling water from the lower kettle slowly added to the tea leaves in the top kettle, making for a strong tea decoction. Individual cups are then poured with additional water being added to dilute the tea as needed.
My favorite part of the tea are the tea cups! Typically, the tea is served in small tulip shaped glasses without a handle, hold them by the rim to avoid getting burned! Also, no milk or lemon – just add sugar to sweeten.
Culturally, offering tea and drinking tea together is a gesture of friendship and hospitality. If you walk into a store in Turkey, you will most likely be offered a cup of tea. Accept this invitation. Strolling through the markets and stores young boys carrying trays of tea is a common sight. When people visit each other at their home, sipping tea and discussing life is the norm.
“Teatime” is another common tradition – during the afternoon hours, tea is served along with sweets. Biscuits, pastries, and cakes are enjoyed with the afternoon tea while catching up with neighbors and friends. Of course, as I said before, tea drinking is an all-day affair, but the afternoon tea time has a special place.
I am more of a coffee person, so freshly ground Turkish coffee is definitely my choice. Turkish coffee (kahvesi – kah-vay-see) is sort of like an espresso. Each cup needs to be prepared individually – the freshly ground coffee is measured out along with the needed sugar and then slowly boiled together in a specialized coffee kettle. Pour this into an elegant cup and saucer and coffee is ready. Beware though! Turkish coffee is not filtered for the grounds, so once the coffee is in the cup, sip slowly so that the grounds settle in the bottom! Do not gulp, else you may be in for a nasty surprise!
Fun fact: In Turkey, a prospective bride may be judged by her potential husband and his family based on how well she prepares and serves Turkish coffee!
Fortune Telling With Coffee
After the coffee is finished, invert the cup onto the saucer and wait for a few minutes. As the cup is lifted, a “fortune teller” will read the patters left behind by the grounds to tell the drinker’s future. A brunch experience at Ankara comes with this fun too! Ask Erin to guide you with how to tell your fortune. Oh one rule – you should not read your own fortune, always have someone else do it. In Turkey, many people take this age old custom very seriously, although many do it just for fun.
Ankara has a fantastic Turkish coffee, which pairs beautifully with their sweet and sticky baklava. The brunch option includes bottomless tea. (Don’t panic – they have bottomless mimosas too!).
To experience a true Turkish tradition, head to Ankara, located at 1320 19th St NW, Washington, DC 20036 in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Hours and menus available HERE.