Contribution by: Erika Cilengir
While the most ubiquitous role for women in the tea industry has been that of plucker, women are gradually moving from the fields to tea company C-suites. Here in the United States, a number of prominent tea companies, such as Teas, Etc and The Tea Spot, are led by women. Internationally, change is also afoot. One such woman on the forefront of that change is Şaziye Ilgaz, who heads the Technology Department and oversees research at the Caykur Ataturk Tea Research Institute in Rize, Turkey, located in the eastern part of the country’s Black Sea region and well known as the heart of Turkey’s tea industry.
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Ms. Ilgaz some questions about her career, the tea industry in Turkey, and tea-industry trends worldwide.
1. Tell us about the Caykur Ataturk Tea Research Institute. What is its mission?
The Caykur Ataturk Tea Research Institute is the only tea research institute under the umbrella of Caykur, which is government run and the largest tea organization in Turkey. Its mission is to enrich the tea industry through professional research that includes plant breeding, plant pathology, microbiology, and soil and plant nutrition.
2. What are your responsibilities as Head of the Technology Department for the Caykur Ataturk Tea Research Institute?
As Head of the Technology Department, my responsibilities are to plan new projects and research and development studies aimed at:
- Improving Turkish black tea quality
- Developing new kinds of tea (for Turkey), such as green, white, and oolong teas as well as their decaffeinated forms
- Optimizing the production processes for tea-based products, such as instant tea and green tea extracts
In addition, I participate in standardization studies on tea through national standardization bodies such as the TSE (Turkish Standards Institution) and TGK (Turkish Food Codex) as well as international standardization bodies such as the ISO (International Standardization Organization) and FAO-IGG (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Group on Tea).
3. Having spent your entire career at Caykur, what are the major changes you have seen in the tea industry worldwide over the past 20 years?
The most important change in the tea industry worldwide has been the increased production of more varieties of tea, including artisan teas, white teas, and oolong teas as well as ready-to-drink instant and ice teas – instead of conventional black teas. Organic tea is also a very hot topic in the tea industry worldwide. In terms of packaging processes, both teabag and teapot production have increased worldwide in the last 20 years.
4. What are three facts about the tea industry in Turkey that most people don’t know?
The most important fact about the tea industry in Turkey is related to our raw material. Because we use no pesticides in our tea gardens, our teas, whether black or green, are some of the safest in the world. According to numerous scientific studies, pesticide residue can cause various types of cancer in human beings.
The second fact is about Caykur, which is one of the largest tea companies in the world, with its 7,700 tons/day production capacity. About 130,000 tons/year of black tea is processed at its 47 tea factories, packaged at its 3 packaging factories, and distributed to both national and international dealers for retailing via its 9 regional marketing directorates. Caykur is the only tea company in the world to purchase 660,000 tons/year of fresh tea leaves, process 130,000 tons/year of black tea, and package and market everything under its own umbrella.
The third fact is about the Turkish tea industry’s domestic market opportunities. Turkey is the only tea-producing country with 2.9 kg/year tea consumption per capita. Tea has a very special place in Turkish social life. According to our traditions, offering a cup of tea represents offering friendship.
5. What do you like best about your job?
I love to see the final tea products developed by my team and me on the shelves in the market.
6. Have you ever attended the World Tea Expo (formerly in Las Vegas and now in Long Beach, California)? Will you attend the 2015 World Tea Expo?
As a researcher, I generally don’t attend such events. Which of such events to participate in is decided by the Board of Caykur and attendance is on behalf of Caykur, not the Caykur Ataturk Tea Research Institute.
7. What changes can we expect to see in the tea industry over the next 5 years?
In my opinion, boutique-style and organic tea production will increase at a faster pace than conventional tea production.
8. Which tea would we most likely find in your morning cup?
Absolutely an organic black tea like Caykur’s Organic Hemşin black tea.
9. In your opinion, which countries are currently producing the most delicious teas and why?
When it comes to black teas, that would be Turkey and India. Because of its lack of pesticide residue and its special taste, thanks to traditional Turkish brewing methods, Turkish black tea is certainly one of the best. However, some special Indian teas have distinctive volatile constituents that lend them unique and delicious characteristics. As far as green teas are concerned, Japan is producing some of the most delicious and aromatic.
10. Which criteria do you use to evaluate a tea’s quality?
We use organoleptic, chemical, and chromatographic analyses to evaluate a tea’s quality. Organoleptic analysis involves evaluating the properties of a tea based on all the senses, whereas chromatographic analysis involves separating a substance, such as tea, into its constituent components and then analyzing the components. For example, the brightness, briskness, and astringency of the tea liquor are the main factors examined during the organoleptic analysis of a black tea. Determining the amount of extract, ash, water-soluble ash, crude-fiber content, and macro- and micro-element contents is the key objective of chemical analysis. Volatile compounds are identified using gas chromatography.
Photos courtesy of Ms. Ilgaz and used with permission