Turks are the authority when it comes to smokes and tea. Shishah, hookah, tea, and fortune-divining coffee can be found all over the country and we’ve got the Top 5 not-to-be missed Coffee, Tea and Hookah Lounges sure to fulfill your orientalist fantasies, while still keeping it real.
Fatih is an extra-conservative neighborhood directly west of Sultanahmet, right near Old City sites like the Hagia Sophia and the Basilica cisterns. A religious hub within secular Istanbul, drinking and skin-flashing are a definite no-no. If you can part with your brew and keep your pants on for a day, it's worth checking out one of the many traditional Kıraathanes in Fatih (although lingering late night, especially if you're a girl, isn't the brightest idea). Conservative Turks take a liking to foreigners who show an interest in their lifestyle, so bust out your best “Nerede Kıraathane?” and you'll be led to tea in no time.
OTP Tip: Kıraathanes are typically for men only but if you're a chick, an infiltration might be in order (skip the lip waxing; it's easier if you have a mustache).
If Fatih is akin to the deep American South in terms of conservative politics and a less-than-cosmopolitan vibe, the AgaKapısı tea house is New York City. This joint is bursting at the seams with hip Turkish urbanites; a little less traditional, but just as authentic. Famous for its extensive menu, you could drink here for 40 days and never taste the same tea leaf combination twice! To top it off, AgaKapısı is surrounded by great views of the city and some delicious platters to accompany your tea. Hook yourself up with a fruity, sugary tea to go full throttle.
Legend has it that shisha—the sticky, flavored, stringy tobacco product smoked most often in tall water hookahs with multiple pipes—was invented in the Tophane neighborhood in Beyoğlu. Consequently, when hopping around this hood, you’re not going to be at a loss for hookah cafés (nargile). Most are clustered near the water and all merit a peek or two. Tap into the stuff Turkish stereotypes are made of by lounging back on deep colored cushions and indulging in some lung-wrecking deliciousness. Not just a tourist attraction, plenty of locals smoke it up in the nargiles. Find a non-English speaking place to add some authenticity to your toke.
If you get a craving for ritzy, hop a bus from Beyoğlu to the Bebek neighborhood and check out the Oba Sultan Café—the classiest hookah joint in all of Istanbul. Sit back on their breathtaking wooden patio and watch the water roll on the Bosphorus Straight while you smoke in this upper-middle-class oasis. Before returning to the squalor you’re used to, blow the rest of your allowance on a fruit-stuffed waffle, a neighborhood specialty. It’s totally worth what seems like highway robbery.
Türk Kahvesi, or Turkish coffee, is well-known in the English speaking world, and it’s not a bastardized “foreign” dish like pizza. Turks in Turkey drink Turkish coffee, and there are plenty of joints that specialize in it. There’s a certain color scheme and lore that goes along with the drink. Put your feet up like an Ottoman at the places catering to that image near Topkapı Palace in Sultanahmet. Ada, a bar and café on Istiklal Street in Beyoğlu, has it going on with a rebellious touch of class. While Istikal Street is known for its party scene, Ada is far less rowdy than its neighbors, sporting music and literary wares for sale alongside great Turkish brew. On your party-night off, hunker down here for some caffeine or wine at a decent price in one of the best modern atmospheres the city has to offer.
When you begin to sweat raki, perhaps it's time to sit back and slowly draw on the pipe. Even if you're just lounging to plan your next step, no visit to Istanbul is complete without some tea, smoke or coffee.