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PART 1: Tea Plants

Tea Plants rize trabzon tea fields


The land east of Trabzon is the quintessential Black Sea country. The west has mountains; in the east they are higher. The west has a wet climate; the east is even wetter. Hamsi are more abundant. Accents are thicker, the music is wilder and the idiosyncracies of each valley more pronounced. Markets are livelier and fewer women make concessions to the "modern" look.



It is the uplands that make the difference. The colors and smells of teafields at Rize or the eccentric sights of a hawk-trainers' cafe in Ardeşen are memorable in themselves, but serve as a mere prelude to the alpine beauty of Uzungöl, the wilderness of Hemşin valleys or the medieval glories of Artvin.
Tea Country: Tea plantations begin immediately east of Trabzon. Beyond Surmene, they invade every slope, field, garden, backyard, beachfront, nook and cranny. They make a pretty sight. The squat clumps of tea bush look like endless herds of electricgreen sheep. They are often seen in neat rows on incredibly steep hillsides where easy drainage creates the ideal environment for their cultivation. When they are old enough (each shrub can live up to 80 years if properly tended) they turn into a single, impenetrable thicket blanketing the land.

As a rule only women work "at tea". Men are never seen in the fields. From April to October the enduring image of the region is the sight of hunched women moving slowly through a sea of greenery, cloaked in bright red keşan west of Çayeli and wide-brimmed straw hats east of Pazar. In early morning they nip the top two or three leaves of each bud. The first two are the best; the third is a politicians' concession to producers; the fourth counts as cheating.
On appointed days the women
show up at buying stations scattered along the farm roads, carrying amazing loads of tea in conical straw baskets strapped to their back. On a busy day one can see dozens of them lounging in the arbor outside a station, many young and ravishing, chatting up passers-by while the children frolic in piles of heaped-up tea leaves. Countless processing plants contribute the olfactory element that imprints itself on one's memory of the region: the intoxicating aroma of slowly fermenting tea.
The 160-kilometer strip between Sürmene and the Soviet border produces all the tea needed to supply the national addiction-over 700,000 tons of raw leaves, or some 150,000 tons of packaged tea annually. Curiously, the introduction of tea culture to this region is a fairly new event. It was the brainchild of a single individual, Zihni Derin, who proposed the idea in 1924 and organized the importation of the first seedlings in 1937. He was also instrumental in the opening of the first state-owned processing plant which went into operation in 1947. His idea transformed the region from one of the poorest in Turkey, where people died of starvation in the 1930s, into one of the richest. The infusion of the equivalent of 150 million dollars a year also helped make the traditionally rebellious Laz into some of Turkey's most loyal citizens. Today, Zihni Derin's modest bust stands in the garden of the Tea Institute in Rize as a tribute to his work.
If Rize means tea, tea means Çaykur. This state-owned monolith processed and packaged all tea in the region until 1984. Despite the arrival of private competitors after that date, Çaykur still dominates the industry with its 48 processing plants and a share of over two thirds of the total sales. Its base buying price (about 25 cents per kilo) sets the market rate and its IOUs count as currency
throughout tea country.
In 1985 the region was jolted by a series of bankruptcies that affected the new private companies. In the follow¬ing year it bore the brunt of the Chernobyl disaster: the contaminated 1986 tea harvest was bought up by the government and allegedly buried at a secret site near Ardeşen. Still, cultiva¬tion continued to expand steadily and the projected opening of export markets now brings a gleam to the farmers' eyes.
 

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Part 1: Tea Plants
Part 2:
Markets
Part 3:
Sürmene
Part 4:
A Muslim Redoubt
Part 5:
A Lakeside Eden
Part 6:
Rize and Environs
Part 7:
Lazland
Part 8:
A Little Berlin


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