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The most important drink in Turkmenistan is tea. Turkmens drink both green and black teas, often the former when they wish to relax, the latter to boost levels of alertness. It is served from the pot, into little bowls without handles, called piyahtshka. It is never drunk with milk, except by the ethnic Kazakh community.

Almost as many superstitions and rituals surround the taking of tea as those involving bread. A fresh pot of tea should, for example, first be poured three times into a cup before it is drunk. If you see bubbles on the surface of your tea cup, this means that you will come into money. But you must 'catch' the bubbles, by dabbing them with your finger and then tapping this on the top of your head, before they reach the side of the bowl, or your new-found wealth will drain away. If bits of stalk from the tea float on the top of your cup, then be prepared to welcome guests to your home.

This was a question posed often in homes or in workplaces. It means "Will you have tea?" and is said in the more personal version of the verb. Chai is both the tea as well as the event at which it is served. Chai is usually made with green tea, sometimes black. Women are very particular about the tea leaves they buy. At the bazaar, sacks of different kinds of teas, all touted as the best, were on display.

Chai is made in a beautiful china teapot, even in the work setting. A portion of loose tea is put in the bottom. Boiling water is added, somewhat ceremoniously. A cozy is put over the pot to keep it warm. The chai-maker waits a few minutes and then performs the next part of the ritual. She pours some tea into a small china bowl. She returns this to the pot. This is repeated two more times and the chai is pronounced ready. Some people say this airs the tea, others say it has a spiritual significance. Whatever the reason, it adds to the mystique of chai to have people all sitting together and waiting for it to be ready.

Chai is then poured into each person's small china bowl (pialushka). This is the teacup and is held in both hands, very comforting on a cold winter day. Usually, food is also served; sometimes what seems to be a full meal and sometimes just bread and jam. The jam is usually homemade from the fruit of the plentiful cherry, apricot or plum harvest. Some people put jam in their chai as well.

Breakfast is not a major meal in Turkmenistan. Most people have chai at about 10 AM. Often this takes place on the job. All workers gather together for this event rather than taking cups back to their work area This scene takes place in factories, offices, schools, 111 the growing fields as well as in homes. Chai is the equivalent of the coffee break at work and the welcome to a guest at home.

"Chai budesh? Anyone for Tea?" by Joan Heron