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Beverages: Beyond Turkish Coffee and "Ayran"

Volumes have been written about the Turkish coffee; its history, significance in social life, and the ambiance of the ubiquitous coffee houses. Without some under standing of this background, it is easy to be disappointed by the tiny brew with the annoying grounds on which an uninitiated traveler (like Mark Twain) may accident ly end up chewing. A few words of caution will have to suffice for the purposes of this brief primer. First, the grounds are not to be swallowed; so, sip the coffee gingerly. Secondly, don't expect a caffeine surge with one shot of Turkish coffee, it is not "strong," just thick. Third, remember that it is the setting and the company that matters- the coffee is just an excuse for the occasion.

Tea, on the other hand, is the main source of caffeine for the Turks. It is prepared in a special way, by brewing it over boiling water and served in delicate, small clear glasses to show the deep red color and to keep it hot. Drinking tea is such an essential part of a working day, that any disruption of the constant supply of fresh tea is a sure way to sacrifice productivity. Once upon a time, so the story goes, a lion escaped from the Ankara Zoo and took up residence in the basement of an office building. It began devouring public servants and executives. It even ate up a few ministers of state and nobody took notice. It is said that a posse was immediately formed when the lion caught and ate the "tea-man, the person responsible for the supply of fresh tea!

A park without tea and coffee is inconceivable in Turkey. Thus, every spot with a view has a tea-house or a tea-garden. These places may be under a plane tree looking into the village or town square, on top of hills with majestic views of a valley or the sea, by the harbor, in the market, on a road-side with a scenic overview, by a waterfall or in the woods. Among the typical tea-gardens in Istanbul; the Emirgan on the European side, Camlica on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus, the famous Pierre Loti cafe, and the tea-garden in Uskudar. But the traditional tea-houses are beginning to disappear from the more tourist-oriented seaside locations, in favor of "pubs" and "Biergarten".

Among the beverages worth mentioning are excellent bottled fruit juices. But perhaps the most interesting drink is "beta", traditionally sold in neighborhood street vendors on a winter night. This is a thick, fermentated drink made of wheat berries, to be enjoyed with a dash of cinnamon and a handful of roasted chick-peas. Beta can also be found year- round at certain cafes or dessert shops.

Finally, "sahlep" is a hot drink made with milk and sahlep powder. It is a good remedy for sore throats and colds, in addition to being delicious.