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. 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 may taste bitter, sour, and slightly astringent. Typically, you first pour water into the glass from the upper kettle, where the tea leaves have brewed, and then dilute it with hot water from the lower kettle. That way you can make your tea as strong as you prefer without cooling it down with room temperature water. For Turks who enjoy their tea quite hot, the two-step method provides aromatic, well-balanced tea at even extreme temperatures. Ample dilution is also key to reducing caffeine intake for the average Turkish drinker, who may enjoy up to 10 cups of black tea a day, including cups well into the night.
Of course, if you’re serving tea like a Turkish family from the last century, the çaydanlık feeds a crowd. You can find models ranging in capacity from one to six liters (or occasionally even more).
A çaydanlık also looks beautiful sitting on a stovetop or coffee table. They come in a variety of colors and materials, from refined porcelain to more utilitarian steel or copper. For something especially eye-catching, look out for models inspired by elements popular during 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 be a bit time-consuming, but is totally worth the trouble.
First, fill the lower kettle with water. Then wash the tea leaves and put them in the top kettle. Put the whole structure on the stove and wait for about five minutes; the water evaporating from the lower kettle will warm and soften the tea leaves (this eases the tea leaves into the brewing process, ensuring they won’t burn when directly submerged in hot water). Pour the hot water from the bottom kettle into the top one, fill the bottom kettle again, and leave it to brew for another 10 minutes. (The kettle can brew for hours on super low heat to produce even tastier tea, if you have the time to try.)
When the tea is done, ideally serve it in glass cups, as is preferred in Turkey. Pour first from the top 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 keep to Turkish tradition), and enjoy.
It’s super easy to clean a çaydanlık too. If it’s stained brown from the tea, simply boil water with a bit of baking soda in the pots for about 30 minutes before washing them, and your çaydanlik will appear brand new again.
How to get one
In Turkey you can find a çaydanlik in any home supply store. In the United States, you can find it in Turkish specialty shops, like Hamle Market in California (which delivers all over the country), or online at Amazon. Try this retro porcelain one in white from Karaca, one of the most popular Turkish brands for home goods.
Demetrios Ioannou is an independent 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 Travel among others.