Çay, pronounces chai, is the traditional black tea of Turkey…and one of my favorite things about day to day life in this country. I was never a big tea drinker in the US, I usually stick to my 5 daily cups of coffee. However, since my first visit to Turkey in 2008, I became instantly hooked on the amber colored tea that is served everywhere in Turkey, and at any time of day. There are tea servers (çaycis) in every business, home, park, boat and street in Turkey shouting “Chai!” as they walk amongst their potential customers. This caffeine packed elixir is never more than a hand waive’s away.
Tea gardens are found all over Turkey. In small villages, in big cities, the scene is basically the same; a group of men reading news papers or playing backgammon, young couples modestly flirting, clouds of smoke and the sound of clinking spoons stirring sugar into narrow waisted tea glasses.
While traveling along the Black Sea coast, Sarah and I were just so lucky enough to come across Turkey’s tea capital…Rize. Because of its fertile soil and high precipitation, the eastern Black Sea coast is ideal for cultivating tea. Rize has been producing tea since the early 1900s, and the large tea garden in the center of town draws tourists from around Turkey and the Middle East. Rize was not much to look at from first glance…a seedy sort of sea side industrial city, but we were eager to see the garden and have some much needed caffeine so we drove our little rental car up the steep hill in the middle of town, and found ourselves in a little piece of heaven.
The view was absolutely breathtaking, and once we got a waiter’s attention we enjoyed it with our own pot of brewing çay. Ahhh, now this was a “sparkle moment” as Sarah and I have learned to call them.