Guide to SKOPJE

Turkish tea

MK TR GR

Two teapots, one on top of the other, two handfuls of Ceylon tea, black, from a yellow box, – with a canary on it -, and at least one or two friends. There are more than enough elements for a friendly hangout and a nice chat. The rest is up to the tea!

Turkish, Russian, Ceylon, black… you can call any way you want but I’m sure we all mean the same thing. Tea served in tiny glass cups, red-brown in colour, very strong  so you are warned not to drink too much. If you have more than two or three cups your blood pressure goes sky high. Yet, any experienced tea fan will tell you that it is just another myth. If you haven’t tried it yet – shame on you! Go straight to the nearest teahouse or look for your Turkish, Bosnian, Albanian friends and ask them to tell you what you have missed in life.

Before coffee

It doesn’t matter how you call it – Albanians call it Russian, Turks only call it tea (Çay), for Macedonians it is Turkish tea – it is the same regardless of who makes it and where the ingredients come from. Turks, Albanians and Bosnians prepare it with  thea sinensis or camellia sinensis but what makes it different is the process of preparation.

“It is an inseparable part of our culture and tradition… we have tea at home, at a teahouse, in the garden, at a picnic… every place is a good place for tea. It is a way of socializing with people and part of everyday life.” –  we heard this answer from everyone we asked. In order to find out more about it we decided to invite our colleagues Besnik Shuki and Husamedin Gina for a walk round the Old Bazaar. They and their friens will reveal the tradition of tea drinking in Albanians and Turks and other Muslim population in  Macedonia.

We begin with one of Besnik’s friends, who has grown up in the Old Bazaar and has had thousands of cups of tea. “There are many teahouses here but I decided to open one more. Times change but old habits die hard.” – says he.

As we learn from our friends, every Turkish and Albanian family makes tea at home at least twice a day and it is impossible for them to begin the day without a cup of hot tea. “Tea is an inseparable part of  breakfast in every Turkish home. We start the day with it.” – says Husamedin, reminding us of the Turkish word for breakfast kahvalti meaning “before coffee”, which means that something has to make a base for morning coffee.

“There are homes where tea boils throughout the day.” – says Besnik.

Addicted to tea

We asked Besnik about the health benefits of tea. We have heard from many experienced tea fans that we need to be careful with it because we might feel sick if we drink too much.

“If you drink moderate amounts – it is beneficial! But if you have too much it has the same effects as a drug! I know some people, and I have friends who are addicted to tea. If they don’t have 10-15-20 cups a day they start shaking! If you can’t drink it in moderate amounts it becomes worse than drugs! It’s reasonable to have two or three cups, but there are people who start at 8 in the morning and go on until 10-11 at night.” – says he.

A cure for headache

“It isn’t easy to make tea!” – says our next host. “It takes a special skill to make a perfect cup of tea.” We asked him to tell us the recipe for tea made in a double pot.

“Firstly, you put water in the lower pot and tea leaves in the upper pot. Heat it to the boil and then pour some of the boiling water over the tea leaves in the upper pot. Fill up the lower pot with water and leave them for 10-15 minutes at lower heat. 15-20 minutes later the tea is ready.” – says he. It is best to consume it within the first 2 to 3 hours because it loses its taste after that and it’s bad for digestion.

We also learned some interesting facts about the characters of their customers. “There are people who don’t drink tea at a teahouse. They may have 15 cups at home but never at a teahouse. Others don’t like cold tea. They order it boiling hot. Some like it strong and don’t care about blood pressure or their health. I have a friend who only drinks dark tea. The one we have is like water to him, and he would be offended if I served him tea like this!” – says Besnik.

The conversation about blood pressure and headaches reminded us it was time to end our field trip. We had already had 5-6 cups and we didn’t want to take any risks – after all, we don’t have any training in tea drinking.

We were reassured by our hosts that we needn’t worry that much. “If you have low blood pressure you should have stronger tea without sugar and it will get back to normal. And it helps with headaches. Once I travelled fromSkopjetoIstanbuland I had a splitting headache. When I arrived at my aunt’s I had two cups and the pain stopped instantly. Tea is good for you as long as you know the right measure and have a proper training.”

 

By Vasko Markovski

Photo: Milan Strezovski

Comments