Posted in Kafevend Blog
Tea is a drink which breaks down the barriers of language and culture. It's reach has encircled the entire globe for centuries past. There were no surprises then when we addressed the subject of tea drinking in Azerbaijan last month only to discover that it's as least as popular there as it is here in the UK. What may have come as more of a revelation was the news that tea plays a central role in men's social lives via the traditional tea house, which fulfils a similar function to the British pub. It's likely that you're also unaware that tea is grown in Azerbaijan and that's the subject we shall be investigating further today.
Azerbaijan has a wide variety of climate zones and these include, at its southern tip, a humid subtropical region where almost all of the nation's tea growing takes place. The Lenkoran-Astara region has the Caspian Sea to its east, Iran to the south and contains the Talysh Mountain chain in the west. These mountains have always escaped periods of glaciation, and the Hirkan Forest which covers them has been in existence for some 70 million years. This is an area containing a significant area of national parkland with a more diverse array of flora and fauna than anywhere else in Azerbaijan. The climate and soil provide favourable conditions for agriculture too, a wide variety of citrus fruits, vegetables and grains being successfully cultivated in addition to tea.
It was during the last two decades of the 1800s that the suitability of the climate and terrain for tea growing was first recognised, though it wasn't until the early 1900s that cultivation got under way. Then, once Azerbaijan had been absorbed into the USSR in 1920, tea production was ramped up as part of a central government drive to increase productivity and self sufficiency. The 1980s saw the highest output of all, but with the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 came the unravelling of the state farms and tea production declined steeply as a result. Nevertheless, the will to grow and process tea is still apparent and in the past few years output has increased a little. Gilan Tea is a good example of a company which is supporting the drive to revamp the industry.
Set up in 2010, Gilan Tea has already restored two former tea plantations and built a facility for processing and packing the resulting harvests. Tea workers in the region still pick tea by hand, many coming from families that have been in the tea business for generations, thus Gilan have been able to tap into local expertise. So far the company's products are sold within the country itself, but plans to extend into the export market will hopefully provide us all with the opportunity to try the region's tea in the future. As time goes on it is hoped that more tea plantations can be returned to their former glory. And in this nation of committed tea drinkers, there'll certainly be an enthusiastic market for home grown tea!