The turkish tea, A national speciality
Yesterday I met Arzu, Fatma, Güner, Gönul and Hava (The owner of the fields), 5 women working in the tea fields in Rize. As soon as my camera was out, they offered me to try their pruner and I therefore enrolled myself in 3 hours of picking in exchange of a lunch with them and the hope of learning more about turkish tea.
40°C, the sun is shinning and I’m surrounded by 5 women amazed by my situation (31, no husband, no kids, traveling alone), I spent half of my day playing with this pruner, making blisters at my hands and holes on my trousers. That was such a day !
I can now witness that tea harvesting is a hard job, physical and very repetitive but these women know how to use gossips, humor and laughter to finally make it pleasant.
From the field to the glass, here is what I discovered:
Rize is situated in the north east of turkey and is one of the 5 cities (together with Trabzon and hopa for example) where you can find tea plantations to make the çaykur turkish tea.
The kind of tea produced there is the Camellia sinensis sinensis (Yunnan). Like grappes, tea grows on the side of the hill in small trees that are never taller than 1 meter high (convenient for the picking).
The picking is done manually by women who spend 10 hours a day in the field from beginning of June to the 21st of august. They go by lines and rounds are followed. This way, no tree is forgotten during a round, nobody is in the way of anyone else and the tea trees can regenerate between 2 pickings. The women use a pruner where a gunny bag is attached to pick the little light green leaves from the trees.
The small fluffy bud will be picked only by hands and will be used for the white tea production. This is the purest and healthiest tea you can find. The other leaves will be used for black and green tea.
The ladies empty their pruner bags into larger bags that they take with them while walking into the alleys. The first meters are easy but the fuller the bags get, the heavier they get too and the most difficult the job is.
These bags are emptied in large hessians tied together as bale and sent downhill by men. Here, this is a young boy, Hasan, who does that summer job to participate in the subvention of his scholarship.
At the end of the day, trucks come, pick the leaves and take them to Gündogdu at the çaykur factory.
At the factory the leaves will follow different steps with different machines : drying, cutting, fermentation (black tea only), crushing, separation, another 30 minutes of drying at 100°C, classification from 1 to 4 (1 being the finest tea) and wrapping.
I wasn’t allowed to take any picture but the factory tour was very interesting.
Caykur produces several series of black tea, green tea (same production process except for the fermentation) and white tea (no transformation, the small buds are just dried and wrapped)
And by the way, “Elma çay” (Apple tea) has nothing to do with tea. It’s just aggregated dried apples with sugar.