We met Ebru Erke, a Food Engineer, schooled Culinary Author, and a Water and Tea Sommelier, to talk about her new book “Tea,” which is her second book after “Breakfast.” First, let’s introduce her a bit for those who have never heard of her.
Ebru Erke graduated from Ege University’s Department of Food Engineering. After having worked on technical marketing in the sector for a while, she started to host radio shows on how to eat right and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Ebru Erke, who began her authorship career as an editor for cookbooks, is now the chief editor of Food and Travel magazine, editorial consultant for La Cucina Italiana magazine, and culinary author at Milliyet newspaper. She hosted a foodie show called Tatbilir Kesifler (Tasty Discoveries) for beIN GURME for two years which still reruns on TV. And new shows are on the way. She is a Board Member at Mutfak Dostlari Dernegi (Association for Friends of the Kitchen) and an active slow food supporter.
Tea is known as a must-drink breakfast item and sometimes as the best companion of evening chit chats, but do we really know about it? Let’s hear it from Ebru Erke.
How did you decide to write this book?
Because of my job, for the last 15 years, I have been travelling in Turkey and to different countries in the world to learn about culinary cultures and write about them. When I looked back after a while, I noticed that tea stood out among all the different food and beverages I have tried, that it has a special importance for me. The day I spent in a tent in the Gobi Desert, I had a tough time sipping tea prepared with mare milk, dried meat, and butter. The unforgettable taste of that coconut milk flavoured very cheap tea I drank at a stall on the road in Sri Lanka. The hours-long tea ceremony I had with a Buddhist nun in Korea. The harvest I attended for the world’s best quality oolong tea in the slopes of the Alishan Range in Taiwan… The company Karaca encouraged me to write this book, which in the end, became an essential part of the efforts they started to create awareness with the Turkish tea culture.
What kind of education is required to become a tea sommelier?
Sommelier means tasting expert. This can be related to any food. I received my education at ITMA. ITMA (International Tea Masters Assosiation) is an important place in terms of the level of the training it provides, as well as the recognition of that training. And it has only ten trainers in different areas of the world. One of them is one of the most powerful tea authorities in India: Parag Hatibaura. I spent almost 18 hours of the 15-day hands-on training in Assam with Parag; in the field, in the production, in the tasting, and in the auction… And after an additional three months of training which I received online, I obtained my certificate as a result of an exam which made me a tea sommelier with ITMA.
How does Turkey compare to the rest of the world when it comes to tea?
We rank the seventh in the world in terms of production, and the first in consumption. Even the biggest producing countries don’t drink as much as we do. Though it only thoroughly entered our life following the proclamation of the republic and plus, it’s just a tea with average quality. Yet, we embraced it to such a pitch that we made it part of our culture and established the idea of Turkish tea all over the world through our tea glasses, the way we brew and present it and, most importantly, through the meanings we attributed to it including friendship and warmth.
Your tea journeys are still ongoing even after the publication of the book. Especially your latest trip to the Himalayas attracted great attention. Could you please tell us about it a bit? Where exactly did you go and why?
Our trip, which took me from Assam, India to Donyi-Polo in the Eastern Himalayas and then to Darjeeling in the West Himalayas in pursuit of tea was highly challenging, yet very special. We had a whopping 40.5-hour journey to Donyi-Polo in the slopes of the Eastern Himalayas to see the tea called the “Phalap tea.” This is a traditional tea only made by a local tribe known as the headhunters. Darjeeling, on the other hand, is home to highly exclusive teas dubbed the champagne of teas. The reason why I took these trips is that we wanted to do something, which hasn’t been tried in the world so far, for my show Cayin Yolculugu (Journey of Tea) that will begin to air on beIN GURME and beIN IZ channels in September. To this end, we are shooting a documentary, based on the trips I already took and will take in the future, covering exclusive destinations regarding tea, the world’s most special and distinct types of teas, and interesting tea rituals. The region we travelled to was on the border of China and Myanmar, and it was only accessible with a special permit. That’s why I preferred there for the first shooting.
Why is the Darjeeling tea called the Champagne of Teas?
Because Darjeeling is a highly challenging geographical location on the Nepal border, in the Western Himalayas, and tea plant yields exclusive produce there thanks to the region’s soil. This has been true for centuries. This produce, together with a diligent production phase, results in the world’s most precious teas. For example, only in the second round of harvest, muscat grape flavour which rises on the tea leaves get attacked by a green insect in the western slopes of the mountains, and these are separately marketed as “muscat” tea at higher prices.
Where else are you planning to go in search of tea?
I will travel to see the production of Pu’erh teas produced after a process of compression in bamboo baskets and fermentation under the soil, which is one of the oldest methods in China. I will also attend a ceremony in Kyoto with a geisha and see the white teas produced on silk in Sri Lanka.
What is your favourite tea?
I have so far tasted the best teas in the world. However, nothing can really replace my daily consumption routine of Turkish tea in a “slim waist” tea glass.
How can we best brew Turkish tea?
Put top quality potable water in the tea kettle, and place a porcelain pot on it. When the water starts to boil, lower the heat in order for it not to lose its oxygen. Never use previously-boiled-and-cooled water to brew your tea. Always use fresh water. Put dried tea leaves in the heated pot. One teaspoon is ideal for one cup. For crowded groups, you can put one dessert spoon per person considering that one person will probably drink about two or three cups from that pot. Using tea in an amount more than necessary can make even a fresh brew taste bitter. Low quality teas can sometimes be very dusty. If you feel like your tea has dust on it, you can wash your tea with cold water before using it. Otherwise, there is no need to wash the tea. Some think that cold water brewing will make a better tea, but technically this is completely wrong. Black tea is already oxidised. I mean it won’t burn with boiled water, unlike some think. Plus, our tea brews late anyway. We can’t achieve that characteristic taste with cold water.