Cozy little waterfront café overlooking the Bosphorus. Walls and ceiling painted in different colors you would never think of combining, yet here along with the wooden wall decor, they make out the perfect blend, as if in the Sultan’s Palace. In the hours before the sunset, two elderly men sitting on flat colorful pillows made of finest materials with shiny golden hems, chatting loudly while sipping Turkish tea served in little tulip glasses with a golden trim on top. Besides them a Nargile with its mint-flavored tobacco smoke evaporating into thin air, making blurry rays of sunset.
This scenery isn’t one taken out of the movies, it is part of the tradition in Turkey, which luckily never changed. Some things just never do. And this is the beauty of it.
The Culture of Nargile
Nargile with its many different names, depending on the country, (hookah in English, or water pipe) is identified with the Middle East and the Arab countries, as part of their old remarkable culture. The name is believed tо be derived from the Persian word nārghile, meaning coconut, suggesting that early hookahs were hewn from coconut shells.
Contrary to the popular belief of the nargile serving to smoke hashish or other types of drugs, is has been around for centuries and there’s nothing shady about its purpose. In the past, until today it has been used to slow life down and enjoy the present moment among family or friends with different flavors of (Turkish) tobacco. The nargile became popular in the 1700s, making its way into the Turkish culture at the highest of the Ottoman Empire, becoming a status symbol and smoking with the sultan was considered the greatest honor.
After the arrival of the cigarettes and their wide spread into the world, the use of Nargile decreased, but during the 1990s it found its way back, trending until today.
Although Nargile has four basic parts (the body – bottle, long flexible hose, the (detachable) mouthpiece and the small bowl to hold the tobacco) in time it became a true art. Although the better ones are ceramic, glass bowls are more common. They come in different colors and graceful shapes, often embellished with embroidery, while the plastic mouthpiece made of fine porcelain or precious amber.
As the existence of the flavored tobaccos is fairly new, in the old times people smoked plain tobacco. Today there are dozens of varieties of green apple, mint, peach, vanilla, chocolate flavor and so on.
The Charm of The Turkish Tea
Nargile cannot be mentioned leaving out the Turkish tea behind since those two go together like Captain Hook and, well… his hook?
Tea is big deal in Turkey. It is the second most consumed Turkish drink, after water. Relaxing after a long day, visiting friends, first thing in the morning, after eating, it’s part of everyday occasions, but even though consumed daily, it never lost its magic of preparation. Turkish people seem to never get tired of the whole ceremony of making, serving and drinking it. I guess that makes it distinguishable from the rest of the world. Many flavors are drunk, but one is the real Turkish tea, the black tea.
History wise, Turks traded and consumed tea as soon as 400 B.C., but what is more surely known is the tea only became part of the tradition in the 1900s. Just between 1888 and 1892 was the first attempt of growing tea on Turkish soil in the popular city of Bursa.
The Serving of The Tea
Turks use tulip-curved, see-through tea glasses without a handle and a small plate underneath that makes carrying and serving it easier. The host pours tea as long as the guests’ desire and “Sorry, we don’t have any tea left!” is simply never said, at all. One helpful tip, since they will continuously supply tea in your glass and won’t take no for an answer as a sign of their generosity, is the traditional way to prevent this: put your little tea spoon on top of the tea glass the minute you finish your tea which means, “Honestly no – that’s enough. Thank you!”