In a recent post on how to get the most out of stanbul I recommended getting into tea drinking. I certainly do when I'm in Turkey, so much so that after a few days on the ground I experience cravings for a glass or two mid-morning, mid-afternoon, early evening, and so on. Lunch or dinner without a glass of tea to follow? Unimagineable!
But there is one time of the day when tea, even strong Turkish tea uncut with water, won't do the job: immediately after I wake. I am a card-carrying caffeine addict and for me that initial, life-giving A.M. jolt comes in one and only one form -- coffee. (Actually, that is not quite accurate -- if given the opportunity I always preface my first sip of morning coffee with a few slugs of Diet Coke. It's not pretty, I know. But it's the truth.)
These days a decent cup is readily (if expensively) available in Istanbul and, I'm guessing, maybe elsewhere on the country's well-touristed western and Mediterranean coasts. Not so much from middle Anatolia east, which is where we've been spending the majority of our Turkey time these last two years. Nescafe is sold just about everywhere (even some tea shops advertise it). I've been known to drink it like medicine, holding nose between thumb and forefinger, when necessary. But now, thanks to a certain Evil Empire-like American coffee chain, Nescafe is a beverage of my past.
I should be ashamed to admit it but these days when we pack our bags for Turkey there's always a ziploc bag or two of single-serving instant coffee from said coffee chain tucked between the jeans and t-shirts. The best part? It actually tastes like coffee (instead of medicine). Pretty good coffee, in fact.
The next best part is that Turkey is an instant coffee-friendly country, for two reasons: (1) even the most down-and-out lodgingscome with in-house breakfast, and (2) Turkey's tea preparation modus operandi guarantees a ready supply of plain hot water for breakfasters. It is the rare Turkish breakfast table that does not include either a traditional caydanlik -- a double boiler consisting of two stacked kettles, the lower containing hot water only, while the upper holds tea -- or an electric samovar-like contraption with one spout dispensing hot water on demand.
At first I felt a measure of embarassment whipping out *t***u**'s instant coffee packets at the hotel/guest house buffet. Some of my fellow diners looked askance (most Turks are much too polite to openly snicker), especially when. like a beer drinker with her whiskey chaser, I accompanied each cup of coffee (2 is my Magic Number) with a full glass of dark, undiluted tea.
But soon I got over the shame and was brandishing my coffee packets with ease. "Yes, I'm a boorish American who cannot adapt -- nay, who refuses to adapt -- to local caffeine customs," those foil cylinders announced.
But the rewards for my crudeness were a fog-free head and a spring in my step, even at 7 A.M..
What else would you expect to see at a fresh milk-serving tea house in what is possiblyTurkey's dustiest town? A patron dressed in white, head to toe,of course.
Then in Van Dave and I spied a cay evi advertising fresh hot milk. Warmed milk just hours from the cow is something that must be tasted to be believed; we'd been drinking it before bed in village homes further north in Kars.
How uttery mind-blowing, I wondered, would our *t***u**'s instant coffee taste stirred into that liquid white gold?
Back in our hotel room we debated. Would it be rude to defile the cay evi's otherworldly hot fresh milk with our instant coffee? Would other patrons be shocked when we pulled out our packets and shook the contents into our glasses?
Then it occurred to me: while hot fresh milk may be something extraordinary to us, to Vanlilar -- or at least to the male Vanlilar who frequent this particular tea shop -- Hot Fresh Milk ain't no big thang. Add to that the fact that, as yabancilar (foreigners), in the eyes of the tea shop proprietor and his customers we're pretty much alien beings who engage in all sorts of bizarre behavior anyway. Suddenly our so-called dilemma was a no-brainer.
We went. We ordered glasses of taze süt. We added our *t***u**'s instant and stirred. And then we drank -- I kid you not -- the BEST frigging coffee of our lives.
The instant coffee -- you know where to get it. The tea house is opposite the blue mosque by the peynir carsisi, or cheese market, Van.