Turkish people serve tea in a tiny narrow glass on a small plate. It is mostly to welcome their guests, to warm up in winter or just as a drink to hang out with friends. Interestingly, by my 10th day in this country, I have learned the many different meanings of an invitation to tea, and how to read the hidden motive of the one offering it.

Competitive merchants often use this humble beveText Colorrage as a hook to entice tourists into their shops. Pension or small hotel owners may invite you to tea to convince you to stay at their place. You may be waiting for your transport, etc and someone at the tourist-interest area kindly asks if you would like some tea. Well, that does not mean that it’s free. Local tea is cheap at 1 to 1.5 TR.

Before coming to Istanbul, the only type of tea that I drink is teh tarik (local tea with condensed milk pulled using a unique technique). I have always been a coffee person. I must have around 1 to 3 cups of coffee a day. However, after several days, I realised that coffee here means Nescafe, which I really cannot stand. Even the four-star Madison Hotel doesn’t have brewed coffee. Turkish coffee is okay once in a while, but not everyday though.

Before I knew it, I have resorted to drinking Cay (Turkish Tea) regularly. I remember coming back on a ferry from Kadikoy to Eminonu. I had decided to visit the Asian shore on a whim since my pick-up to Canakkale that morning was delayed due to snow. I was seated at the second last row. An old man was carrying a tray of drinks. He had a friendly fatherly face. “Cay?” he offered to the passengers, row by row. It was chilly, and the hot piping beverage looked tempting. I called him. “Cay!”He carefully lifted the cup and handed it to me. I digged for coins in my waist pouch and gave gim 1TL. Then, I sipped it slowly. It was warm and soothing, it made me feel as if everything was going to be okay. It was one of my 2 memorable Turkish Tea experiences.

My other encounter, however, was not as pretty. It was my first night in Selcuk. I stepped out of my tiny room at the pension to go to the traditonally decorated dining room in the opposite building. It was just a few steps away but I had to put on my bulky shocking pink winter jacket. I was not used to the weather. I had ordered home-cooked dinner that night, the owner’s mother prepared it herself. To my surprise, a good looking young Turkish man greeted me as I opened the door. I replied and sat down at one of the round tables. The old woman seemed busy in the kitchen. The man brought over bread, soup, rice and several dishes. He introduced himself and said he was a friend of the owner. He started asking me the usual touristy questions and I responded. I started eating. Feeling awkward being served by him, I invited him to sit down. He swiftly pulled the chair and sat opposite me.

We talked and talked. He commented that I had a friendly face and he could see that I came from a good family. He told me that he had been managing his own business in Selcuk for 12 years. He was happy being a bachelor at 36, able to do as he pleased. Since I am Muslim, he started asking me about my religious views. He said sometimes he was a Muslim and sometimes not. I didn’ realise that the old woman had taken a seat next to me. He then eyed her, said she was tired and ask her to retire for the day in Turkish. She needed to close and lock the dining hall. Let us have some tea at his carpet shop just down the hill, at the side of the street.

Caught off guard, I followed him. I only had sandals and woolen socks on, I wasn’t even wearing proper shoes. It was only 7.45pm but quiet and dark outside nevertheless. His shop was an elegant carpet and kilim store with walls lined by pieces of woods. He opened the door, switched on the lights and invited me in. I sat down on the sofa as he boiled water in a kettle. The colourful traditonal knick knacks caught my sight, I got up to look at each of them closely. Oh, you can have that… and that, he said to the few that I touched. He brought over two tiny glasses of tea, told me that it was made with fresh leaves, not Lipton as used by most people. I took a few sips, it was hot and delicious. He asked me to take off my winter jacket, obviously expecting me to stay longer. He went back to my religious views, saying that I seemed very modern. He said that the girls at his village were conservative, matchmaking was still much done.

Well, he had the best spoken English among all the Turkish people I had met. We could discuss and debate and I didn’t have to repeat what I said, not even once. I was really enjoying the conversation. After a while, he kept going back and forth on whether I had a boyfriend, was I allowed to go out with men in my country, etc. Finally, he asked straight out if I had been with man. When I said no, never, he commented that I was conservative. He refilled my tea. I was nervous about being alone with him and could not help wondering if he had drugged my drink. It was getting too intimate and there was strong chemistry between us. I started talking a lot to kill the disturbing quietness of the evening. That backfired as he said he liked my being talkative and if we had been in Kuala Lumpur, he would have married me.

Too much excitement in a day. I put a stop to it and decided to excuse myself. I told him that I had just arrived from Canakkale at 6.15am that morning and had not slept at all on the 6-hour bus. He walked me back to my room.

Originally written for Hazia’s blog

posts by Hazia