Our last days in Turkey took us to Trabzon, a lively university town that actually felt more western than anywhere we’d been since Istanbul. We also got to Rize, just up the coast from Trabzon where Turkey’s state-owned tea company has its base, and saw our first tea plantations.
Google searches for tea in Trabzon can lead to confusion, because one of the top tips is a place called the Stress Café. But this changed name some time ago and is now Ehl-i Keyf (though the words Stress Café still figure on the mosaic on the café frontage).
This café is in a fantastic old building, with an exotic entrance, a night club downstairs and a wonderful covered terrace upstairs, which is where most of the kids hang out.
And I use the term ‘kids’ intentionally. I have honestly never taken tea with so many youngsters who can barely be a quarter of my age, but the great thing is that nobody batted an eyelid at the old fogies who walked in for a cuppa and a spot of lunch.
What struck me was that this was a great place for teenagers of 14-15 years to just chill, smoking those harmless water hookahs, sipping tea; many there in small groups of mates; some on innocent-looking dates.
I can’t think of any equivalent customer base anywhere in the UK, where most kids of that age either hang around bus stations or spend their time eating fries in McDonalds.
The tea was OK, though I’d advise against a ‘big cup’, which means basically you get the sort of plain white cup you’d see in any caff back home, rather than the more exotic Turkish (small) glass.
We had an excellent lunch, but admired the (western-looking) cakes in the stand on the way out.
So, if you go to Ehl Keyf for tea in Trabzon, just be aware of who else will be there, but enjoy it anyway.
For coffee in Trabzon, we ended up at one of the two Edwards Coffee branches in town.
It’s a lovely place, almost mimicking the set of Friends’ coffee shop, with a very American feel, confirming the western vibe to Trabzon.
The coffee was a decent brew, not of the quality we found in Istanbul, but the first western-style cappuccino we’d had for four or five days, so welcome all round.
And a nice touch were the cakes. We chose a German banana and chocolate cake, baked apparently by a German lady who now lives in Trabzon after meeting and marrying a Turk in Germany. Nice that those international links can lead to such a good addition to the coffee shop menu.
From Trabzon, we moved an hour up the coast to Rize, the home of Caykur, the Turkish state-owned tea company.
We’d read online about a tea museum at the Tea Research Institute in Rize, but nobody we asked seemed too sure about where this might be.
In the end, one local reckoned it had to be linked to the Botanic Tea Garden up above town, and sure enough there it was.
Tea Institute, tea plantations and tea gardens. It’s a wonderful spot, with great views down over town and onto the tea plantations. But, on a sunny Monday morning, we were the only visitors, with the only other people having a cuppa in this massive 100-seater tea garden being workers from the institute and gardens.
It’s such a shame the museum is not open (whether it was just that day or it’s gone for good we’re not sure). A man appeared from the institute as we were about to leave, offering to open up the shop if we wanted to buy some tea (we did).
But we felt the whole thing could have been so much better marketed. You’d think all the tour groups who go through the area, visiting mountains and monasteries, could be encouraged to take a trip up to Rize’s tea HQ – after all tea is so much a central part of Turkey’s culture.
And it’s hard to believe how little knowledge there seemed to be among locals of just what the Tea Institute does or even where it is.
And by the way, Turkish tea may not be the best quality in the world according to the tea experts, but that cuppa we had at the Botanical Tea Garden in Rize was the best we had in Turkey (and only about 25p a cup, too!)
So, tea lovers, if you’re anywhere near north eastern Turkey, do not miss out on a visit to Rize. The tea plantations look lovely, too…