When thinking about the top tea countries in the world, China, India and Britain immediately spring to mind. A country that is less obvious however is Turkey, where people actually drink more tea per person than anywhere else in the world. Not only does Turkey rank 5th in the world when it comes to tea export, tea also plays a significant social role in Turkish culture.
Turkey’s unique location, as a bridge between the East and the West, made the country incredibly suitable for trade between these two distant worlds. As early as the 5th century, tea (or some earlier incarnations of tea) traveled across the Silk Road to Turkey, where it was rising in popularity because of its supposed health benefits, and continued to rise ever since. It wasn’t until the 19th century, after seeing experiments with tea production by the Russians in nearby Georgia, that Turkey started to explore the possibility of producing tea themselves. An attempt at cultivating seedlings from Japan and China proved unsuccessful, mostly because of the soil being deemed unsuitable for growing tea.
When coffee became significantly more expensive after the collapse of Yemen Vilayet in the early 20th century, the Turkish government began experimenting with tea again, particularly in the Rize province. 50.000 seedlings were provided to the region in 1924 as the Turkish government invested heavily in the development of specialized skills pertaining to the cultivation of tea. While initial attempts remain unfruitful, largely because of lack of knowledge, Rize emerged as Turkey’s premiere tea producing region by the mid-20th century. After the Second World War even more resources were invested into developing the tea industry, and in 1983 the Tea Corporation, or Çaykur, was established to help with production standards and quality control. Today, the Rize province is responsible for over 60% of the 227,400 tons of tea grown annually in Turkey.
Aside from the production, Turkey also boasts a rich history of tea culture both in the tools used and in the social contexts of drinking tea. Tea is generally served in a “ince belli”, a small tulip-shaped glass, and is at times boiled in what is known as a “çaydanlık”, where two teapots are stacked on top of each other, allowing more control over the strength of the tea. Traditionally, tea is served with beet sugar, and an assortment of pastries. Tea is perceived in Turkish culture as an important symbol of hospitality; a gift between friends, a welcome to strangers, or to finalize a deal in business. Tea is mostly drunk at home, at tea gardens, or at “kıraathane,” café’s where mostly men gather socially.