Thanks to a climate that’s perfectly suited to its cultivation, tea is king east of Trabzon. The tightly trimmed bushes are planted everywhere between sea level and about 600m, to the exclusion of almost all other crops. As picking the tender leaves is considered women’s work, during the six warmer months women can be seen humping enormous loads of leaves in back-strap baskets to the nearest consolidation station. Each year, nearly a million raw tonnes of tea is sent more or less immediately to the cutting, fermenting and drying plants whose stacks are recurring regional landmarks.
Oddly enough, 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 left badly depressed following 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, as supply can barely keep pace with domestic demand.