It seems everywhere you look in Istanbul there is a coffee shop (or soon to be one). The hip Karaköy district is no exception; in fact, Karaköy, along with Kadiköy and Cihangir, seems to be overflowing with coffee shops and European-style cafes. Deep in the maze of alleyways littered with street art and lined with upscale boutiques is something different: Dem Karaköy, a tea lovers dream.
Dem offers the crowds of people flocking to Karaköy on the weekend a sunny spot on their patio, but also a break from the monotony of coffee, serving up over 60 different types of tea. As drinking tea is a national pastime in Turkey, Dem established itself as something unique and interesting for those who’ve tired of traditional Türk çayı. The menu is as easy to read as it is diverse – offering selections from around the world, categorized by color variety.
The space is lined with arched windows that warm the interior with incoming sunshine. The walls are lined with an array of different tea pots and cups, while the center of the seating area is dominated by a communal table. Outside, the tea drinking spills over to tables, where friends meet, smoke, and enjoy the oncoming spring.
I’ve always been an avid tea drinker. Growing up, my mother and her parents always had a glass of tea in the afternoon and after dinner – often substituting it for the more potent after-meal coffee. What I remember of those tea services are the tray of accoutrements that come with drinking tea with an English-Canadian-Midwestern sensibility: the lemon wedges, the sugar cubes, the honey, and the milk – simple dressings for a china cup. As I grew older I kept up with my tea drinking – steering clear of coffee – and those familiar sights of milk, honey and a full pot became keepsakes of my childhood.
At Dem, when my pot of tea came out with honey and milk, the tea was steeped in nostalgia. Halfway around the world, sitting in the sunshine on a patio, a cup in my hand, the gold on the handle worn thin and spotty by years, I was transported to those afternoons in my great grandmother’s house and evenings with warm mugs and shortbread.
I’ve searched the European continent for the best chai tea latte, and while the Chai at Dem (from Hindustan) doesn’t compare with the richness of some varieties I’ve had, it was floral and fruity and tamed by the milk and honey. As you flip through the menu you will find an array of varieties rarely seen in Istanbul, like Rooibos (from South Africa) and fermented Oolongs (from China and Taiwan). If you are feeling adventurous try No. 22, Milky Oolong, which (unlike its name) comes out clear and full of flavor; or No. 47, Rooibos Chocolate Heaven, which is an explosion of cocoa, cream and chocolate.
At Dem, the English traditional 5pm teatime is a daily event, with light snacks and baked goods. They also offer breakfast options, and if the weather is too warm for you to drink your tea hot, there are iced tea options made in-house.
Dem is located at Karamustafa Paşa Mh., Hoca Tahsin Sk. No:17 / There is also a branch of Dem in Bebek: Selçuk Sk. No:7
All photos: Cameron Loftus.