How new brews are brewing in the tea paradise of Turkey

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(CNN) — On top of a rugged mountain in northeastern Turkey, the village of Haremtepe is like an island surrounded by a vast ocean of greenery: green rows and forests of tea plantations continue until the misty sky is suddenly visible.

Many of the local tea pickers, almost hidden among the deep green vegetation of the hill, quickly and efficiently pick the shiny leaves and place them in large cloth bags hung on their their shoulders before the next tide begins.

“This place is special,” said Kenan Çiftçi, the owner of a tea farm and cafe in the village vertiginously. “Normally, tea can be grown only in equatorial areas. But the microclimate of that area, the amount of sun and rain, means that tea can grow.”

It is here and around Rize – a fertile region bordering the Black Sea known for its cool, rainy climate and spectacular scenery – that most of the world’s tea is grown. A lot of tea drinkers. .

The British and the Chinese, who hold the history of tea, will pay more attention, but Turkey (or Türkiye as it calls itself) in some regards to food highest per person in the world – the average Turk eats four kilograms of leaf and. year, according to the International Tea Committee, that equates to 85 million people drinking four cups a day.

‘Culinary Fun’

Most of Turkey's tea comes from Rize-grown plants.

Most of Turkey’s tea comes from Rize-grown plants.

Ruslan Kalnitsky/Adobe Stock

It is made in a samovar-style vessel called a Çaydanlık, a very strong black tea that is usually served from small tulip-shaped glasses on formal occasions. At the same time, the traditional method of making Turkish tea – using a “double-double” system of two pots stacked on top of each other – can take a long time to prepare eat, and so too with frequent delay. the pace of Turkish life.

“Eating tea is as much a social activity as it is a culinary pleasure,” said Hüseyin Karaman, rector of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University in Rize, which opened this year a Tea library holding book 938 dedicated to drinking. “It’s the glue that holds everyone in our community together.”

From the bucolic landscapes of the Black Sea to the Kurdish tea plantations of eastern Turkey and the ultra-hip restaurants of Istanbul, tea is used for everything from welcoming guests to arresting to friends; start the day to rest after eating; or laughing at a game of backgammon.

Drinking çay has been associated with Turkish culture, such as Karaman, which dates back to the days of the Silk Road – street inns that have been around for centuries. caravanserais teahouses would often be found to entertain weary traders – and evidence of tea leaves was found in the 16th century in the Ottoman Empire.
During the time of Abdülhamid II, who was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1876 to 1909, tea was planted in the borders of the kingdom, explained Karaman, but the fruits were poor because the areas were not suitable. However, it soon became clear that the Black Sea region was suitable for tea cultivation, and in 1947 the country’s first tea factory was established in Rize.

“Making tea on a large scale here is a new trend,” added Karaman. “But it grew and spread quickly and embedded in the culture.

The inspiration

Turkey will produce 275,000 tons of tea in 2021.

Turkey will produce 275,000 tons of tea in 2021.

Emre Erçin

However, although according to some estimates Turkey produces 10% of the world’s tea (275,000 tons produced last year), most of it is consumed in the home and most of them are old black varieties grown at Rize’s. 767 million square miles of tea plantations, then harvested in six months from May to October, before being dried, rolled, fermented and dried.
However, the trend is changing for Turkish tea, as manufacturers like Lazika, a Rize-based startup founded in 2016, are starting to break with tradition.

The company, working with small farmers, produces green and white teas, often using local ingredients such as yayla flowers from the nearby Kaçkar Mountains, to facilitate the taste and, some locals say, providing medicinal benefits.

“Turkish tea is based on the ancient practices of the people,” says founder Emre Ercin. “No change. It’s always the same taste. We want to change this.”

There is a desire to turn over a new leaf: In 2021, Lazika processed about seven tons of hand-picked tea, but the production has increased significantly this year and is set to produce 25 tonnes.

The company also opened a cafe in Istanbul to sell its products, with more planned. “Our customers have a new taste. It just takes a little effort,” Ercin said. “Their eyes are being opened.”

Some are doing different kinds of work. Aytul Turan, who runs the Tea Chef group led by women in Rize, started making handmade tea after visiting China in 2017.

“I try to make the best tea by making fresh tea leaves, picked by hand without harming the tea plant with great care and precision , while maintaining the quality of the product,” he said.

‘deep love’

A scientist at ÇAYKUR, Turkey's national tea company.

A scientist at ÇAYKUR, Turkey’s national tea company.

Peter Yeung

Together with his partner Yasemin Yazıcı, they are currently picking high-quality white tea leaves by hand and training themselves and making hand-made green tea, black tea and Japanese-style matcha. .

“I have a great love for tea making,” says Turan. “We started with the knowledge that our young people have the right to know, develop and develop the history of Turkish tea.”

But Çaykur, Turkey’s national tea company, which employs over 10,000 people across 45 factories, has innovation on the menu.

In the laboratories of Çaykur, scientists are constantly testing new white clothes in technology and new techniques to improve the taste and stability of the product, looking at everything from the pH level to can be silver. For some blends, a “2.5 leaf” process is used to take only the bud and two young leaves of the tea tree – which some believe results in the best flavor.

“We are always trying to create new levels of quality,” said Muhammet Çomoğlu, who works for the Rize Tea Research and Application Center (ÇAYMER). “For Turks, tea is one of the most important parts of the daily diet.”

But as Turkish tea grows and grows in new directions, so does its ability to bring people together. In Turkey’s national drink, a 30-meter-high building in the shape of a large Turkish tea cup has been opened – with a bazaar, observation deck and, in the future, a museum – was opened in the city of Rize. years old.

“Living without tea is not life,” said Hasan Önder, the manager of the store. “We need to celebrate this important part of Turkish life, between ourselves and sharing the sweet story with the guests.”

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