Director general and chairman of the board at Çaykur
‘Tea was part of my life as soon as I opened my eyes. It has accompanied me my whole life,’ says Imdat Sütlüoğlu, director general of Çaykur since 2011. His parents were tea farmers and he helped with the harvest as a child and later as a student. ‘When I was young, I had to pick every single leaf by hand. Now, using shears, a good picker can harvest up to 500 kg.’
Tea cultivation forms the economic pillar of the Rize region. Çaykur provides work for almost one million people and tea secures the livelihood of the region’s inhabitants. The father of four treats tea farmers, employees and suppliers equally and with respect. ‘We are all tea lovers in Rize. When it comes to tea, we all have the same feelings and goals.’
The former Turkish Minister of the Environment is extremely aware of his responsibility. Imdat Sütlüoğlu has a clear goal in mind: he wants to continue to strengthen the region and its people by focusing on sustainable tea growing. By 2023, Çaykur wants 100% organic production. He wants Rize to become the largest organic tea-cultivating region in the world.
Before she came to Çaykur, tea was just a drink to her – and then it became a way of life. Ayla Ilgaz manages the technology department at the research institute of Çaykur. Together with her team, this lively woman with twinkling eyes researches new types of tea and improves existing ones. Quality analysis is also part of her remit. The research institute, with its laboratories for biochemistry, chromatography, soil analysis and microbiology, is the heart of the company. From development and research to the market launch of new products, all processes come together here. The production engineer’s daily tasks include the evaluation of teas in accordance with a points system, starting with the appearance of the dried tea to a taste test. The fact that tea brings people together is something that Ayla Ilgaz has experienced at first hand. In between researching and doing paperwork, she got to know the man who would become her husband. ‘We were colleagues and worked together for many years.’ The wedding wasn’t held until after the harvest season though, in accordance with the deep-rooted tradition of the Rize region.
Sevim and Ali Çatalbaş,
They inherited their tea plantation in the village of Kantarli near the county town of Hemşin from their ancestors. The whole family is involved in tea growing and it is their only source of income. ‘The plantation ensured we had food as children and later supported our own children by financing their education,’ explains Ali Çatalbaş. Seven years ago, the family was one of the first tea farmers to convert to organic cultivation. In order to inform themselves properly about the growing methods, the then 46-year-old Sevim Çatalbaş had to learn to read and write. The change has proved to be worthwhile. The quality of their tea, which was always good, is now even better, explains Ali Çatalbaş. ‘Thanks to Çaykur, the effort was worthwhile. They buy the entire harvest from us for a fair price.’
The married couple do not use any fertilisers on their plantation. ‘If you use something in the wrong way, it damages the earth,’ says Ali Çatalbaş. The soil has everything the tea plants need. Our tea is also very good without fertilisers.’
He began as a humble worker at Çaykur in 1991, but Aycan Dilaver now manages the production department at the tea factory in Sürmene, a small town near the provincial town of Trabzon. 150 tonnes of tea roll down the conveyor belts every day and 120 people work in the factory day and night in three shifts. ‘Tea is everything to us. Without it, the whole region would not exist,’ says the 49-year-old, who grows his own tea in the family tea garden.
From May to October, the tea-processing plant in Sürmene is at peak capacity. The tea conveyor belts run seven days a week, apart from a 15-to-20-day break between harvesting times. ‘Sometimes we even forget to take a break,’ grins Dilaver. He always takes time for tea. Sometimes five to ten cups a day. The father of two takes a handful of tea from a sack and breathes in the smell: ‘Tea gives me and my soul energy,’ he says. Being part of the big Çaykur family fills him with pride. ‘Çaykur is my home. If I can contribute to the success of Çaykur and put in the commitment expected of me, that makes me happy.’
Der zweifache Familienvater nimmt eine Handvoll Tee aus einem Sack, saugt den Geruch tief ein: „Der Tee gibt mir und meiner Seele Energie“, sagt er. Teil der großen Çaykur-Familie zu sein, erfüllt ihn mit Stolz. „Çaykur ist mein Zuhause. Wenn ich zum Erfolg von Çaykur beitragen und das von mir erwartete Engagement einbringen kann, macht mich das glücklich.“