(CNN) — Atop a terrifying mountain in northeast Turkey, the village of Haremtepe resembles an island surrounded by a vast ocean of greenery: leafy, leafy rows of tea plantations stretch as far as the hazy sky fleetingly allows.
Dozens of local tea pickers, almost entirely hidden in the dark green hillside vegetation, quickly and efficiently pluck the glistening leaves and deposit them in large, slung cloth bags before the next deluge begins.
“This place is special,” says Kenan Çiftçi, owner of a tea plantation and a cafe in the dizzyingly placed village. “Normally, tea can only be grown in equatorial areas. But the region’s microclimate, lots of sun and rain, means tea can thrive.”
Here and everywhere in Rize – a fertile province bordering the Black Sea that is known for its humid climate, monsoon rains and breathtaking vistas – is where the majority of tea is grown in what is most largest nation of tea drinkers in the world. .
Much of Turkish tea comes from the lush plantations of Rize province.
Ruslan Kalnitsky/Adobe Stock
Brewed in a samovar-style utensil called caydanlik, the powerful loose black tea is usually drunk very regularly in small tulip-shaped glasses. At the same time, the traditional technique of infusing Turkish tea – using a particular “double boiling” system of two kettles stacked on top of each other – can take a long time to prepare, and therefore goes hand in hand with the technique often slower. rhythm of Turkish life.
From the bucolic grounds of the Black Sea to the laid-back Kurdish tea gardens of eastern Turkey and the ultra-hip cafes of Istanbul, tea is used for everything from welcoming strangers to meeting friends. ; start the day to relax after a meal; or to sip languidly during a game of backgammon.
“Large-scale tea production here is a relatively modern phenomenon,” adds Karaman. “But it grew and spread quickly and became deeply embedded in the culture. Now it feels like tea has been around for thousands of years.”
stir it up
Turkey processed 275,000 tons of tea in 2021.
The company, which works only with small farmers, produces organic green and white teas, often using local ingredients such as yayla flowers from the nearby Kaçkar mountains, sweetening the taste and, according to some locals, providing health benefits. medicinal.
“Turkish tea is focused on people’s old habits,” says founder Emre Ercin. “There is no variation. It’s always the same flavor. We want to change that.”
There is clearly an appetite to turn over a new leaf: in 2021, Lazika processed around seven tonnes of hand-picked tea, but production has increased significantly and this year it is expected to process 25 tonnes.
The company has also opened a cafe in Istanbul to sell its products, with more planned soon. “Our consumers have a new taste. It just takes a little effort,” says Ercin. “Their eyes are opening.”
“I try to make the best tea by processing fresh tea leaves, which are harvested by hand without damaging the tea plant with great care and precision, while preserving the structure of the product,” she says.
Scientist of ÇAYKUR, the Turkish state-owned tea production company.
Together with her friend Yasemin Yazıcı, the duo now harvests high-quality white tea leaves by hand and processes them themselves, as well as artisanal production of green tea, black tea and even Japanese-style matcha.
“I have a very deep love for tea production,” adds Turan. “We left with the awareness that we young people have the responsibility to know, develop and innovate the history of Turkish tea.”
At Çaykur’s labs, white-coated scientists are constantly testing new technologies and techniques to improve product flavor and consistency, monitoring everything from pH levels to color tone. For some blends, a “2.5 leaf” process is used to take only the bud and the two youngest leaves from the tea plant – considered by some to be the finest result.
“We are always trying to create new levels of quality,” says Muhammet Çomoğlu, who works for the state-run Rize Tea Research and Application Center (ÇAYMER). “For the Turks, tea is one of the most important elements of the daily diet.”
But as Turkish tea continues to grow and evolve in new directions, its ability to bring people together remains. To toast Turkey’s national drink, a 30-meter-tall building shaped like a giant Turkish tea glass – featuring a bazaar, viewing terrace and, in the future, a museum – was inaugurated in the city of Rize this year.
“Living without tea is no life at all,” says Hasan Önder, the bazaar’s manager. “We need to celebrate this important part of Turkish life, both among ourselves and by sharing the delicious history with visitors.”