An introduction to Turkish beverages

My first of many cups of Türk çayı. Çay may be drunk koyu (dark) or açık (light), but it always comes in a shapely glass çay fincanı (teacup) with a cube of sugar on the side. Tea is just everywhere, as far as I can tell. A çay evi (tea house) or çay bahçesi (tea garden) may be found on every corner, and you hardly need an occasion to drink tea. Feeling the sting of the hot glass against the tips of the fingers becomes a pleasant ritual marking every meal, outing, or social event.

This is not just the case in the cold months. There is a prevailing cultural belief related to Turkish folk medicine which says that the temperature of your body and the beverage you consume should be in balance. If it is hot outside, drinking a cold, icy beverage will make you “unbalanced” and therefore susceptible to sickness. Much better to drink a hot beverage, such as tea, to balance your body. And, as skeptical as I was with this initially counter-intuitive idea, it actually works.

Coffee is a reference point of the morning for Turks, as seen in the Turkish word kahvaltı, which refers to “breakfast” but literally means “before coffee.” Türk kahvesi (Turkish coffee) is served in small white mugs and is wonderfully strong and thick, if that is the correct description. While you’re sipping it, thick dregs of finely powered coffee beans stick to the sides and settle to the bottom of the cup.

Türk kahvesi is served either az şekerli (little/no sugar), orta şekerli (medium sugar), or cok şekerli (lots of sugar). Nescafe and expresso are also commonly drunk in Turkey, so if you want the good stuff, make sure to specify. Note that I have never been a so-called “coffee person,” but I love this stuff.

Ayran is a popular cold drink essentially consisting of watered-down and chilled yogurt. In most restaurants you will receive ayran in a plastic cup with a foil that you unpeel to drink. However, it seems that ayran should traditionally come in a tin cup like the one pictured. This restaurant was run by Türks from the east part of the country, where ayran is served thicker and more frothy. Its sour flavor struck me as a bit of an acquired taste, but regardless the ayran was certainly novel and refreshing.

Rakı is the national alcoholic drink of Turkey. It comes in bottles as a clear liquid; when chilled water is added to the rakı, it distills with the anise and turns the liquid a cloudy, opaque white, thus giving its nickname, “lion’s milk.” As Wikipedia tells us, it is similar to such worldwide beverages such as pastis, ouzo, sambuca, arak, anise castellano, and aguardiente, but it is of course unique in itself. The glass pictured says Yeni Rakı, which is the classic and most popular Turkish brand. Important: Rakı is a social drink, meaning that it is always partaken in a social setting, never alone.

This was a sort of şerbet (sorbet) drink made out of rosehip that had a thick, textured consistency and tasted vaguely of cider, but that’s all I can remember. Maybe one of my teachers or classmates can remind us of the finer points of this tasty drink.

Afiyet olsun!


2 thoughts on “An introduction to Turkish beverages

  1. Austin Yoder September 1, 2010 / 5:36 am

    I’m really jealous! I want to try them all haha.

    Coffee is a reference point of the morning for Turks, as seen in the Turkish word kahvaltı, which refers to “breakfast” but literally means “before coffee.”

    — I love that. I have a girl from Turkey on my floor this year. Will be asking her some about Turkish coffee sometime 🙂


  2. C. Puls September 2, 2010 / 7:53 pm

    Glad to see that you’re taking note, Master of Beverages;) You should be able to find some overpriced Turk kahvesi in Georgetown (for instance, Divan Cafe) or maybe your new friend from Turkey can tell you how to make it.


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