Turkey is the world’s fifth-largest tea-growing region after India, China, Kenya, and Sri Lanka. Most of its tea gardens are in the mountainous Rize province in northeast Turkey, close to the Black Sea, where the climatic conditions—snow in the winter that preserves and protects the tea plants against fungi and pests, and plenty of rain in the summer—are ideal for growing.
Tea is a national staple across all demographics in this culturally diverse Eurasian country—Turks drink significantly more tea per capita than any other nationality—and the majority of its homegrown tea is consumed within its borders.
However, with growing awareness of its fine quality tea and a general Europe-wide increase in tea-drinking, Turkey is experiencing a sharp rise in demand for its tea. According to the Eastern Black Sea Exporters Association, Turkey’s tea exports increased dramatically last year. In 2016, revenue from tea exports increased 20.4% over the previous year to about $28.73 million. In terms of volume, exports increased by 11.4% in 2016 to around 6.67 million metric tons, compared to the previous year.
Although Turkey exports tea to 86 countries, the greatest proportion of exports are to Europe, in particular Belgium and Germany, said Ahmet Hamdi Gürdogan, chairman of the Eastern Black Sea Exporters Association.
“Turkey mainly exports to European Union member countries due to the vast majority of the Turkish population [in those countries]. Especially the Turkish population in Belgium and Germany prefers Turkish tea,” he said.
Gürdogan added that an increase in tea advertising has helped the country to increase its tea exports.
“One of the most important reasons for tea export’s upward trend every passing year is Çaykur’s focus on advertisement activities. Also Turkish tea has an idiosyncratic taste,” which many beyond its borders are starting to discover and prefer, he said.
More than half of the population of Turkey’s Rize province makes its living from tea, and farming has steadily moved over to organic practices over the last 13 years, according to state-owned Çaykur, one of the region’s largest employers. It believes that organic cultivation will secure the future of the Rize region and its inhabitants, not to mention giving the tea a better, more flavor-intense quality. Products made for export to Europe carry the European organic “Biosiegel” label.
“We are gradually converting our production to organic cultivation and moving decisively into European markets,” says Imdat Sütlüoğlu, general director and chairman of the board of Çaykur, the largest tea producer in the country.
The company expects to have converted its entire production to organic farming by 2023.