University of Rochester

Alumni Gazette

A Cup of Culture

Say the word “tea,” and countries that come to mind are China, India, and Great Britain. Say the word “coffee,” and a country that comes to mind is “Turkey” . . . right? Yet Turkey trumps even Great Britain when it comes to tea, with the highest yearly consumption per capita—5.05 lbs, or 1,000 cups per person—in the world.

“You have to drink tea everywhere, all day,” says Pelin Aylangan ’90, ’98S (MBA), an expert on tea and Turkish culture. “The whole nation is on an I.V. drip of tea. It’s the lubricant of conversation. You think, ‘I want to buy a carpet. I have to drink two glasses of tea.’ You drink tea to get to know the carpet shopkeeper, and at the same time he checks you out to see if you’re an easy mark. And it’s considered rude to refuse the tea.”

Born in Turkey, Aylangan grew up in Rochester, where she was active in the Turkish Society of Rochester. Although she wanted to major in anthropology at the University, she chose economics, with a minor in women’s studies.

Now she has the best of both worlds—she’s writing a book on the tea culture of her native country. As part of her research, she has traveled to Turkey several times, and there she realized that she also wants her book to inspire interest in Turkey.

“Turkey doesn’t have terrorists, but the images are lumped in with the Middle East. Turkey is beyond that image, beyond the image in Midnight Express,” she says, referring to the classic drug-smuggling movie.

“I went to a town called Amassia, where they still use a samovar to make tea,” she says. “In Amassia there were remnants of five civilizations—mummies, tombs.

“I don’t care if visitors to the country go to tea farms or not; there’s so much culture to experience.”

She had another epiphany while she was researching her book.

“I realized, when I was in Turkey, observing social customs, that I really did become an anthropologist, but I bring an organizational, consultant’s perspective to it.”