Rabbit Blood, Rooster Tail

Rabbit Blood, Rooster Tail

A thin-waisted glass, tulip or pear shaped, glistening with a bright red, piping hot liquid inside. This is tea, as it is enjoyed in Türkiye and Azerbaijan. A shared culture with many similarities, two nations unite over a glass of tea, a vehicle of communication in both countries. Now, they have collaborated for a world-wide recognition of their shared tea culture, finally being included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Tea culture of both countries is announced as a value representing the two countries, as a symbol of national identity, hospitality and social interaction.

Offering tea is like the flag of Turkish hospitality. For Turkish people, every hour of the day is like tea time. Tea is brewed first thing in the morning, and even late in the evening, neighbors visit each other for a glass of tea, which is never a single glass. The same is true for Azerbaijanis. That is why the tea culture of the two countries entered the UNESCO list hand in hand, and the tea tradition, which focuses on the conviviality, once again revealed the similarities between the two nations.
Tea is at the focal point of life in our country. It is as if we are a society that has been drinking tea since eternity. However, the history of such widespread drinking of tea is not very old. Tea cultivation in Türkiye was experimented in the early years of the Republic as an alternative to coffee which could not be grown within the borders of the country. The motive was to be a totally self-sustained country to be economically independent and tea seems to be a feasible alternative to coffee. It was a rather slow start, but especially with the establishment of a state-owned tea factory, especially after 1945, we became a tea-aholic nation. Interestingly, in Ottoman times, before the establishment of the republic, there is very little record of tea in our history. For the first time in the 12th century, the famous Sufi poet Ahmed Yesevi recorded tea as a drink that is good for health. When we come to the Ottoman Empire, the first mention of tea appears in the travel book of the famous traveler Evliya Çelebi. Evliya mentioned tea only twice in his narratives. A tea trade record in Istanbul in 1631, and another mention about the offering of tea at the banquet given by the Kurdish Bey of Bitlis in honor of Melek Ahmet Pasha. He counted tea among the endless display of foods and drinks and wrote that he tasted tea for the first time in his life. Apparently, tea was not well known back in 17th century.

Tea entered our lives effectively only from the 19th century. We met with tea, especially with the reduction of customs duties with the 1838 Balta Liman Agreement signed with England, which opened Ottoman lands to English trade, and as a result, the tea trade, which was largely in the hands of the British, came to the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman historian Soraya Faroqhi says that the custom of drinking tea was originally only in the eastern regions, where tea was common, in close contact with Azeri, Iranian and Russian cultures. From the 1870s, during the reign of Abdulaziz, it was envisaged to grow tea in Trabzon with the Sultan’s edict, but this was only possible after the republic. Interestingly, the first tea plantations in Azerbaijan started quite late too, in 1896, in Lankaran province, and tea became widespread in the 1930s.
Both countries drink and love their own tea, just as we call Rize tea number one, Azeris call it Kachmaz and Lankaran tea. Lankaran region is also an important citrus region, just as Rize was once famous for its tangerines. But tea is in the foreground, both cities have erected a tea glass statue as a symbol.

There are many similarities between the tea culture of both countries, from the brewing to the color of the tea. The reason both cultures drink tea in a glass, rather than a porcelain cup, is to admire the bright red color of the brew. Azeris call it “horuz guyruku” which is rooster tail, just as we call red-brewed tea as “tavşan kanı” meaning rabbit blood. We use thin-waisted glasses, which are famous all over the world as tulip-shaped glasses, they use a very similar one, but call it “armudu” which means pear-shaped. The pear glass is usually with spiral optics, so that it reflects the deep red rooster tail color well and cools more slowly. Tea is brewed in a teapot in both countries, but Azeris prefer to use a samovar to boil water instead of a kettle. The way of drinking tea with lump sugar, which is not very common in our country other than the city of Erzurum, is very common in Azerbaijan. They call it “dishleme” which can be translated as “biting,” as the sugar cube is bitten by teeth and not mixed in the tea. Another forgotten trick by us is living with the Azeri friends. The trick is to put hot water and sugar in a glass first, mix, and pour unsweetened tea brew on top of it so that the tea floats on the sweetened water, creating a two-layered visual effect. Another custom that we do not have, but common in Azerbaijan is to add cloves, cakes and rose water to tea. The offering of tea is never thought of without dessert. When we say dessert, apart from the typical Azeri sweets Pakhlava and Shekerbura, all kinds of jams and fruit preserves decorate the table in crystal bowls, especially jewel-like preserves such as walnut, cherry, apricot, cornelian cherry, rose are always on the table. Just like us, the expression “let’s eat sweet and talk sweet” is the motto of the moment.

Above all the similar practices, the vital common point between the two cultures is the atmosphere of conversation and conviviality around the tea. It is this social cohesiveness and hospitality aspect of tea that is emphasized in the UNESCO application reports. The enjoyment of being together, sharing a glass of tea, is what matters at the end of the day, and as often said of two countries, “Two countries - One nation,” in this case, it must be revised as “Two nations - One glass of Tea.”

Aylin Öney Tan,