Coffee and Tea Culture in Turkey

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

“All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. All play and no work make Jack a lazy boy. There is time to play, and there is time to work. Only foolish people play all the time!” This was one of the first poems I learnt in kindergarten. I had no idea what it meant then, but as I grew, I learnt that the poem was communicating the importance of diligence but also the need for rest. My fourth-grade teacher puts it this way: “Rest when you should, and work when you must.”

Turkish tea in teacup

Turkey has several social norms that emphasize value in productivity and rest. Their invitation to drink tea and coffee telling are some of the ways Turks value rest and communication.

Drinking Tea

I believe the invitation to drink tea serve as segue to relaxation. It is normal to be welcomed to a restaurant and offered a cup of Turkish tea for post-desert. There are also shops where people sit to have light snacks and drink tea. In my last visit to a breakfast restaurant, the waiter automatically served my friend and me some tea although he did not offer it, and we did not demand for it. When we inquired if it was free, he responded that it was not, but the restaurant assumed that customers would eventually ask for tea. My friend, who is Turkish was not very happy with that assumption.

She suggested that it was a “slick” way for the restaurant to demand extra charge on meals, especially if one did not know that they could have rejected the tea in the first place. She agreed that tea-drinking has been a tradition that allows people to relax and feel comfortable. The restaurant’s assumption shows how well tea-drinking is embedded into the Turkish culture. Unlike going to McDonalds for a to-go cup of ice-tea, Turkish tea tradition requires one to sit and drink from the special glass tea cup, thus making it a no “rushing”, grab-and-go matter. The invitation to drink tea presents an opportunity to halt hard physical and mental labor and relax. I see tea-drinking as a buffer between work and food, i.e. if one drinks it as an appetizer; or food and work, i.e. if one drinks tea as post-desert.

Also, I believe that the invitation to drink tea is a call to conversation. For instance, it is very common to be offered tea by several vendors in the Grand Bazaar—a place where I bet you will assume profit-making, business-minded busy people have no luxury of time for. Who knows? Maybe it is a savvy business trick to guilt-trap you into purchasing a thing or two in their stores. However, I find it to be an effective psychological mechanism to feel comfortable and start conversations with vendors— something which to me emphasizes that one is not just a customer but human.

Tea-drinking is a social norm that encourage relaxation and help spark conversations. I often request for Turkish tea at social avenues for the reasons I have already mentioned. I look forward to practicing this tradition when I go back home. However, it may not be with tea because I do not like tea much—I may substitute the tea with local Ghanaian ginger drink.

Then there is coffee and fortune telling... Click to read more about it here.

In fall 2015, Trudy studied abroad in Istanbul, Turkey. She shares her experience in this journal she had to write for one of her immersion classes.

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