An hour into negotiations over silk scarves, the tea came out. It was my first visit, with some friends, to Istanbul’s Kapalıçarşı (the Grand Bazaar), one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. The shop owner emerged from the back of his store holding a tray with small tulip-shaped glasses and a çaydanlık, two teapots of slightly different sizes stacked one on top of the other. He poured us some hot, apple-flavored black çay (tea) from the top pot, before diluting it with hot water from the bottom pot. “Afiyet olsun” he said, or bon appetit.
This was an old trick. Since the 15th century, customers and merchants have haggled over prices in this market, and tea plays an important role in negotiations today. When the tea comes out it’s time for a small break, but also a good opportunity for the merchant to butter up his prey with intimate chit chat. Between the sweet tea and the friendly banter, customers lower their guard and eventually give in, leaving the store with bags full of scarves — which is exactly what we did.
Beyond a clever bartering tactic, a cup of tea accompanies every aspect of daily Turkish life: It’s enjoyed with breakfast and during afternoon work breaks, used to celebrate significant events like graduations and weddings, and served as a sign of hospitality and friendship. A 2016 Statista study found Turkey consumed the most tea per capita, beating out Ireland and the U.K., and the tea is always hot, even in summer, when it paradoxically offers relief from the heat.
This tea craze didn’t arrive until the fall of the Ottoman Empire, when Turks lost control of coffee-producing regions. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of the new Turkish Republic, pushed tea as a secularized, Western habit. Farmers began cultivating it in the country’s mild north, çay bahçe (tea shops) multiplied, and Istanbul’s Mısır Çarşısı (known as the Spice Bazaar) filled with varieties: orange, pomegranate, rose, jasmine, hibiscus. Around the same time, the çaydanlık showed up, possibly derived from the Russian samovar. Wherever it came from, the double pots of a çaydanlık could serve lots of people, a simple response to rabid demand. The kettle proliferated.
Today the çaydanlik is essential in Turkish households, and not just because it can serve large parties. Indirect heat gently draws flavor from tea leaves without burning them, while DIY dilution allows every drinker to customize their cup. Compared to a standard single kettle, the çaydanlik brews a superior cup of tea.
Why you need one
Direct heat applied in a standard kettle burns tea leaves, giving çay a harsh, bitter taste. In a çaydanlik, the leaves aren’t right over the flame but higher up, in the top pot. Indirect heat ensures the temperature around the leaves rises gradually, coaxing the true flavor and beautiful amber color out of the tea without scorching it.
The çaydanlık also offers flexibility when it comes to serving and diluting tea.