Tea (Cay) is everywhere in Turkey and is drunk at any time of day or occasion. It is also an integral part of the hospitality of guests, and refusing a glass of cay can be considered an affront.
How Tea came to Turkey
The tea culture is relatively young, because Turkey has long been a country where coffee was drunk. The coffee was mainly sourced from Yemen, which at that time belonged to the Ottoman Empire (later Turkey).
Yemen possessed the city of Mocha on the Red Sea, the metropolis of early coffee trade. However, by 1918 at the latest, when Yemen's independence was declared, coffee was "lost" and became an expensive import commodity.
So it was necessary to find a suitable replacement for the population.
Around 1890 two tea cultivation attempts were made in the area around Bursa, but both failed because the climate was too dry.
In 1917 a delegation was sent to neighbouring Georgia on the Black Sea, where tea was already successfully cultivated. From there the knowledge of how to put tea cultivation into practice was taken over. The first turkish tea gardens were established close to the Georgian border on the Black Sea, and they worked successfully. The local climate is very suitable for tea plants with warm, rainy summers and mild, frost-free winters.
Rize, the Centre of the Turkish Tea Cultivation
In 1924 a law was passed to promote tea cultivation around the city of Rize. In the mid 1930s, it was also decided, that the complete tea for the country's own use should be produced in Turkey.
Between 1937 and 1940 large quantities of young tea plants were imported from Georgia, and also clones were systematically cultivated in Turkey.
Today around 65% of Turkish tea is produced in the area around Rize. Other growing areas are Trabzon, Ordu, Giresun and Artvin. This makes Turkey the fifth largest tea producer in the world, which is unknown to many. Production takes place in small to medium-sized, mostly family-run businesses, producing around 190,000 tonnes of tea per year, of which ~160,000 tonnes are consumed in the country. So there is only a rel. small amount left for export.