Tea Production in Turkey

Tea Production in Turkey

Georgian Tea Picker in the province of Rize, Turkey

If I told you Turkey has the highest per capita tea consumption (3.15 kg per person) you might not be surprised. However If I told you history of tea in Turkey dates back to only 1930s you’d be surprised. Before that we’re basically a nation of coffee drinkers.

First attempt to produce tea was made during the reign of Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909) in the province of Bursa which is in northwest part of Anatolia. However it did not work out because of the climate conditions of this region. Then attempts were directed to Eastern Black Sea region where climate conditions were more suitable for tea production. First organized mass tea production occurred in the late 1930s, however it took another decade to open first tea factory (in 1947) because of the Second World War. 

Today there are more than 200.000 farmers in the province of Rize (accounts for more than 60-65% of tea production), Trabzon, Artvin, Ordu and Giresun producing more than 200.ooo tones of tea each year (around 4.5% of world tea production). The elevation of tea plantations can go up to 1000 meters. Although teas that are grown at these plantations are pesticide free, they are not organic because of the use of chemical fertilizers. Depending on weather conditions tea is harvested three or four times each year.

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

Although Turkey is one of the top tea producing countries, the volume of tea export unexpectedly low. There are basically two reasons for that. Firstly domestic consumption is high and secondly cost of the production is quite higher compared to other main tea producing countries. Furthermore high tariff rate on tea import, 145%, has made it easier for both Caykur and private companies to market their tea domestically.

Caykur, the state-run tea company founded in 1971, is the main player in the market today having more than 60% of the market share. Caykur used to have monopoly over the market until 1984 when private companies were allowed to produce tea. Since then private companies have acquired around 40% of the market share however that’s mostly because of the quotas that were put by Caykur for each farmer. If there were no quotas Caykur’s dominance would have been much larger. Main reason for this is that farmers do not trust private companies because they tend to pay off farmers late and sometimes even not in cash but with tea itself.

Today Caykur have more than 50 factories to process tea. Since tea production in Turkey is pesticide-free it’s very convenient to produce organic teas as well. To that end Caykur have opened an organic black tea factory in Rize to meet the growing demand of organic teas.

With the growing popularity of green and white teas in Turkey, Caykur have started to produce them as well. That’s said most of the production is still black tea and it does not seem to be changing in the near future. On the other hand almost all tea production in Turkey, both by Caykur and private companies, is CTC production. High domestic demand and lack of competition from abroad have led companies to focus on quantity, therefore CTC production, rather than on quality. 

Tea server at a tea house in Istanbul
Tea server at a tea house in Istanbul
An old man serving tea in Istanbul
An old man serving tea in Istanbul
Classic style Turkish tea glass and saucer
Classic style Turkish tea glass and saucer
Carrying Tea Leaves in Rize
Georgian seasonal workers are widely employed by farmers
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Selection of teas produced by Caykur

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