After an hour of negotiating the silk scarves, the tea is out. It was my first visit, with friends, to Istanbul’s Kapalıçarşı (the Grand Bazaar), one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. The store owner came out from the back of his store holding a tray with small tulip-shaped glasses and a çaydanlık, two teapots of slightly different sizes stacked on top of each other. He poured us hot black cay (tea) with apple flavor from the upper pot, before diluting it with hot water from the lower pot. “Afiyet olsun” he said, or bon appetit.
It was an old trick. Since the 15th century, customers and traders have haggled over prices in this market, and today tea plays an important role in the negotiations. When the tea comes out, it’s time for a little break, but also a good opportunity for the merchant to coax his prey with intimate chatter. Between sweet tea and friendly banter, customers let their guard down and eventually give in, leaving the store with bags full of scarves — that’s exactly what we did.
Beyond a clever barter tactic, a cup of tea accompanies all aspects of Turkish daily life: it is enjoyed at breakfast and during afternoon work breaks, used to celebrate events events such as graduations and weddings, and serves as a sign of hospitality and friendship. A 2016 Statista study found that Turkey consumes the most tea per capita, beating Ireland and the UK, and the tea is always hot, even in summer, when it paradoxically offers relief from the heat. .
This tea craze didn’t come until the fall of the Ottoman Empire, when the Turks lost control of the coffee-growing regions. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of the new Turkish Republic, made tea a secularized Western habit. Farmers started growing it in the mild north of the country, çay bahçe (tea shops) sprang up, and Istanbul’s Mısır Çarşısı (known as the spice bazaar) was full of varieties: orange, pomegranate, rose, jasmine, hibiscus. Around the same time, the çaydanlık appeared, possibly derived from the Russian samovar. Wherever he came from, the double pots of a çaydanlık could serve many people, a simple response to a rabid demand. The kettle has proliferated.
Today, çaydanlik is essential in Turkish households, and not just because it can be used at large parties. Indirect heat gently draws flavor from tea leaves without burning them, while DIY dilution allows each drinker to customize their cup. Compared to a standard single kettle, the Çaydanlik brews a superior cup of tea.
why you need it
Direct heat applied in a standard kettle burns the tea leaves, giving the cay a harsh, bitter taste. In a çaydanlik, the leaves are not just above the flame but higher up, in the upper pot. The indirect heat ensures that the temperature around the leaves gradually increases, drawing in the true flavor and beautiful amber color of the tea without burning it.
Çaydanlık also provides flexibility when it comes to serving and diluting the tea. Even properly brewed Turkish tea – usually black tea from the mountain villages around the Black Sea, especially Rize – is often too strong to drink straight, and it can taste bitter, sour and slightly astringent. Typically, you first pour water into the glass from the upper kettle, where the tea leaves have steeped, and then dilute it with hot water from the lower kettle. This way you can make your tea as strong as you want without cooling it with room temperature water. For Turks who like their tea quite hot, the two-step method provides an aromatic, well-balanced tea even in extreme temperatures. Abundant dilution is also key to reducing the caffeine intake of the average Turkish drinker, who may enjoy up to 10 cups of black tea a day, including cups late into the night.
Of course, if you serve tea like a Turkish family from the last century, çaydanlık feeds a crowd. You can find models ranging in capacity from one to six liters (and sometimes even more).
A çaydanlık also looks beautiful sitting on a stove or coffee table. They come in a variety of colors and materials, from fine porcelain to more utilitarian steel or copper. For something particularly eye-catching, look for designs inspired by popular elements from the Ottoman Empire, with elaborate painted or engraved designs. There are even electric versions for lazy tea drinkers.
How it’s used
The Turkish brewing ritual can take a bit of time, but is definitely worth it.
First, fill the bottom kettle with water. Then wash the tea leaves and put them in the upper kettle. Put the whole structure on the stove and wait about five minutes; the water evaporating from the lower kettle will warm and soften the tea leaves (this aids the process of steeping the tea leaves, ensuring that they will not burn when directly immersed in hot water ). Pour the hot water from the lower kettle into the upper kettle, refill the lower kettle and steep for another 10 minutes. (The kettle can steep for hours on very low heat for even tastier tea, if you have the time to try.)
When the tea is cooked, ideally serve it in glass cups, as is preferred in Turkey. First pour from the upper kettle with the tea leaves, then dilute the tea with hot water from the lower kettle. You can then add sugar (in the form of sugar cubes, if you want to stick to the Turkish tradition), and enjoy.
It is also very easy to clean a çaydanlık. If it’s stained brown from the tea, simply boil some water with a little baking soda in the jars for about 30 minutes before washing them, and your çaydanlik will look like new again.
How to get one
In Turkey, you can find a çaydanlik at any home supply store. In the United States, you can find it in Turkish specialty shops, such as Hamle Market in California (which ships nationwide), or online at Amazon. Try this retro white porcelain from Karaca, one of the most popular Turkish homeware brands.
Demetrios Ioannou is a freelance reporter and documentary photographer, based between Athens, Greece and Istanbul, Turkey. His work has been featured at The New York Times, NPR, POLITICO Europe, The daily beast and BBC trip among others.