Floating on a sea of tea

Dusk falls on Safranbolu, Turkey
Dusk falls on Safranbolu, Turkey | Art by Todd Berman

We’ve been out and about for three hours and we’ve done almost all there is do in Safranbolu, Turkey, an old Ottoman village that’s been recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. Once you’ve wandered the winding cobblestone streets, visited the dinky museum, and toured the restored whitewashed houses with creepy, ill-chosen mannequins recreating traditional Ottoman life, there’s not much else on offer.

So Todd and I head up Hidirilk Tepesi hill to a scenic overlook to write and draw until dinner. The hilltop park entry fee is two Turkish Lira, which includes a free drink from the café, staffed by Ahmet, a man with a energy fueled by isolation and the caffeinated fumes from the tea he brews all day. Before Ahmet lets us leave the café with our black tea – which sadly is Lipton – he asks us to sign his guestbook, filled with years of friendly comments from visitors. He proudly finds every note from any American that has every passed through the café’s doors, barely giving us time to read their hometown name before flipping to the next one.

Hot tea in hand, Todd and I head outside and grab a picnic table overlooking the Safranbolu vista. We’re the only ones here. It’s quiet except for the sounds of a few children playing in a yard far below our hilltop perch.

Ahmet, the crazed tea pusher - Safranbolu, Turkey
Ahmet, the crazed tea pusher | Photo by Todd Berman

An hour later, in the distance I see the door to the café open and Ahemet walks our way with a tray topped with two steaming teas in plastic cups. Delivery made, he smiles and goes back inside.

The air over picturesque Safranbolu grows as smoggy as Los Angeles’ sky on its worst day. The smell of industry, field burns, and wood fires reach even our lofty spot.

On the dot, two fresh teas arrive an hour later, courtesy of Ahmet. Since he speaks little English and we speak almost no Turkish, he doesn’t pause much for conversation. Instead, he giddily gives us two small buttons for a local film festival that wrapped up weeks ago – the gift may be pointless, but he’s clearly happy to have something to give.

Though it’s a pleasant day, a half dozen picnic tables sit empty on the overlook above Safranbolu as Todd draws and I take advantage of miraculous free, strong WiFi.

Ahmet arrives as expected an hour later, with a pair of cups containing a liquid that Todd and I are beginning to dread. Is this just Turkish hospitality or Ahmet’s cabin fever?

The last tea delivery is timed perfectly to coincide with sunset, when of us watch the lights in town blink on as the polluted Safranbolu sky smears purple and red. Despite the language barrier, I’m starting to understand that Ahmet is an authentically friendly people-person, not just a shill for tea.

A little later, our stomachs are filled with liters of tea and our nerves are twitching from overcaffeination, Todd and I pack up our things and head into the café. We want to have time to give a drawing Todd made of Safranbolu to thank him for his generosity, but partly we’re also more than a little afraid that Ahmet is poised to make another tea delivery.

It’s no surprise that Ahmet’s waiting inside for us with one last drink, this time a cup of local yellow saffron tea. Though we have no room in our stomachs, we take it in, warmed inside and out.