Journey to the Tea Capital of Turkey (Part 1)

Fresh tea leaves

I’ve been planning to make this trip for a long time. The fact that Trabzon is my hometown which is next to Rize and my family has tea gardens there made this trip a necessity for some time. it’s long overdue and there was a lot of catching up to do. Furthermore when Drew (@teaxplorer) asked me some questions about tea culture in Turkey a few months back and hinted he’d like to see more about Rize; I knew it’s time to pack my backpack and fly to Trabzon.
When I got there second flush picking was already under way. Picking used to be carried out by family members that own tea gardens. However that’s changed recently and now almost every family employ Georgian workers to do the job. These are seasonal workers coming from Georgia and stay during summer time that is about three to four months. They are paid $35 on average per day and provided with somewhere to stay and a meal three times a day. This year second flush picking has overlapped with Ramadan which increased the demand for Georgian workers significantly since locals are having hard time to work during day time.

Georgian Tea Picker
Georgian Tea Picker

On a regular day one of the family members drops workers off at the tea garden as early as 6 am. The workers continue to pick tea until 12 am when they have their lunch. They use tea cutters to pick tea which is basically made up of scissors and a small bag. I’m sure you wonder if there is any handpicking. The answer is no apart from a few independent farmers who pick buds to make white tea. Furthermore Çaykur has been planning to produce white tea for some time and first time this year it’s asked farmers to bring over hand-picked buds.

Manual Tea Trimmer
Manual Tea Trimmer

Back to daily life of tea farmers; around noon the family member transports fresh  tea leaves that are plucked to sell. Generally people are more eager to sell their tea to Çaykur which is a state-run tea company because Çaykur has proven to be more trustworthy when it comes to pay off tea farmers unlike private sector companies. In the past some private tea companies have gone bankrupt and left thousands of tea farmers empty handed. Therefore first choice to sell tea has always been Çaykur. Farmers are paid 1,35 TL (0,65 USD) for every kilo of fresh tea leaves. However Çaykur has been implementing quotas for each family which makes selling rest of the tea to private companies a necessity. If it was not that quota I’m not sure any private company would be able to buy tea.

Carrying Tea Leaves to Selling Stations
Carrying Tea Leaves to Selling Stations

After lunch time second round of picking starts and it lasts until around 6 pm. The same cycle mentioned above is repeated one more time and day ends.
Before tea leaves are sent to factories for processing they are collected at a station for a very short time. At these stations fresh tea leaves are put into huge trucks to be transported to final destination.

Fresh tea leaves on their way to the factory
Fresh tea leaves on their way to the factory

In the upcoming post, I’m going to write about a visit I made to a black tea factory that is run by Çaykur. I’ll try to walk you through each step to help you visualize black tea production.

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