The coast east of Trabzon gets progressively more extreme as you approach the Georgian border – if the Black Sea coast as a whole is wet, here it’s positively soggy. The mountains, shaggy with tea plants and hazlenut trees begin to drop directly into the ocean – imposing natural defences which have led to the development of distinct ethnic groups such as the Laz. Sadly, the coast route has remarkably little to offer travellers. The first decent, unpolluted beaches east of Trabzon are found between Arakli and Sürmene. The towns themselves are nothing to write home about. The same goes for the boatyards with their colourful, top-heavy taka fishing boats at Çamburnu, 3km east. A much-touted pay beach is tucked at the base of the cliff just beyond the port, but equally good or better free beaches line the road to Of.Read More
East of Trabzon, thanks to a climate ideal for its cultivation, tea is king. The tightly trimmed bushes are planted everywhere between sea level and about 600m, to the exclusion of almost all other crops. Picking the tender leaves is considered women’s work, and during the six warmer months of the year they can be seen humping enormous loads of leaves in back-strap baskets to the nearest consolidation station. The tea, nearly a million raw tonnes of it annually, is sent more or less immediately to the cutting, fermenting and drying plants whose stacks are recurring landmarks in the region.
Oddly, tea is a very recent introduction to the Black Sea, the pet project of one Asim Zihni Derin, who imported the first plants just before World War II to a region badly depressed in the wake of the departure of its substantial Christian population in 1923. Within a decade or so tea became the mainstay of the local economy, overseen by Çaykur, the state tea monopoly. Despite the emergence of private competitors since 1985, and the Chernobyl accident, which spread radiation over the 1986 crop, Çaykur is still a major player in the domestic market. Export, however, seems unlikely since supply can barely keep pace with domestic demand.