Azerbaijanis refer to tea as “chay” and have a long history and colorful customs preparing chay. *
Domestic cultivation is more recent, dating to the 1930s.
Demand for locally produced tea has increased in the past few years. Last week Azernews reported the opening of a new tea factory with a processing capacity of 12 metric tons of tea leaf a day.
“Astarachay was established in 2010. It produces a variety of agricultural products but the company is mainly focused on tea,” according to the newspaper. The company intends to double production from its 400 hectare garden near the city of Astara.
Azerbaijan’s leaf harvest was 474.2 metric tons in 2014, resulting in about 95 metric tons of made tea, according to the State Statistics Committee. Tonnage is expected to increase to 500 metric tons of leaf in 2015 with 251.8 metric tons already collected through June, up 14.2% compared to the same period in 2014, according to Azernews.
Azersun Holding, founded in 1991, is the largest of the country’s tea companies with gardens in Astara and Lenkeran and in the country of Sri Lanka from which it imports a large quantity of tea. Russia is Azerbaijan’s largest tea supplier at 134 metric tons.
The country one day hopes to produce enough domestic tea to meet demand.
Following a 1929 study on growing tea on the Caspian Sea by the Azerbaijani Institute of Gardening, the government established tea plantations in humid, subtropical Astara, and the Lenkeran region near the Talysh mountains. Production was mechanized during the Soviet era with plans to dry 36,000 hectares of land and build a network of reservoirs used to irrigate tea.
Agronomist and Professor Farman Quliyev, writing in Azerbaijan Visions, recounts the history of this project and the negative impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union. “It would be worthwhile to revive and improve tea-growing in Azerbaijan to provide for a revival and future improvement of tea-growing in Azerbaijan,” he writes, identifying potential gardens in Zagatala-Balaken and on southern hillsides of the Great Caucasus.
“Special importance should be given to establishing an “Azerchay” working group, to establish the relevant financial foundation by involving foreign investors, providing low-interest loans, increasing the endurance of Azerbaijan tea in the face of competition,” he concludes.
*Tea is generally taken without sugar in a glass known as the Armudu. The tea is served strong and blended with herbals (tisane), brewed separately in a matching tea pot. Jams and nuts are served along with sugar cubes that are dipped in the tea and nibbled.