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Culture of Çay (tea), a symbol of identity, hospitality and social interaction

The home country of tea is considered to be China. Tea may be the first Chinese herbal medicine used by Chinese people in ancient times. Cultivation of this plant began after it became known that tea leaf decoction is useful for the human body. According to researchers, the first information about tea can be found in Chinese manuscripts dating back 5,000 years.    

The Southern region is the homeland of tea in Azerbaijan. Various types of tea are cultivated as well as offered for sale especially in Astara, Lankaran and Masalli, and partially in the regions Balakan, Gakh and Zagatala in the North-West.     

The tea plant was first brought to Azerbaijan’s Lankaran region in 1912 and planted there for the first time in 1937 in Lankaran. After that, mass production of tea began in Azerbaijan.

According to experts' research, more than 10,000 tons of tea are consumed annually in Azerbaijan. Tea, as a drink, not only has a cooling and soothing effect, but has also become an indispensable ornament of Azerbaijani tables.   

Azerbaijan has a special type of tea. This type, called Azerbaijani tea, is cultivated mainly in the south of Azerbaijan. Tea is the most popular drink in Azerbaijan and is considered an essential drink that Azerbaijanis have been consuming for centuries.  Even in ancient times, guests were offered tea at official receptions held in palaces. The tradition of offering tea to guests at marital consent continues to this day.         

Tea culture in Azerbaijan has an ancient past and deep-rooted traditions. Tea is characterized as a symbol of hospitality and respect for guests. Traditionally tea is served in pear-shaped glasses called “armudu”, a name which translates as ‘pear’. Azerbaijanis reckons the tea table as an ideal choice for conversation and relaxation. Today Azerbaijan is considered to have the oldest tea traditions in the Caucasus.       

Besides brewing tea in a simple form, the tradition of adding special herbs to it is also widespread in Azerbaijan. Thus, tea is also served in the form of brewed together with thyme, rose hips, mint, cloves and other aromatic plants, which are reckoned priceless pearls of Azerbaijani nature. Lemon is considered an indispensable element of tea tables. Azerbaijani tea is usually served in glasses called “armudu” with lemon and a lump of sugarloaf. In addition, sweets such as jam, shekerbura, baklava, dried fruits are also preferred at the tea table in Azerbaijan.       

Due to its caffeine content, black tea has an invigorating and toning effect on the body, calms and activates the mind. To make the tea tasty and delicious, it is very important to follow its special brewing method. 

Dry tea should be stored in a closed container, away from humidity and sunlight. The right choice of teapot is an important condition when making tea. The most perfect teapot is made of porcelain.

When boiling water is poured over dry tea, the tea leaves are boiled and acquire a bitter taste. When the tea boils, it is necessary to wait for the foaming to stop, after 5-7 minutes, when the water temperature reaches about 75 degrees, water can be poured over the dry tea.           

There is a brewing procedure depending on the type of tea. Black tea - 200 ml of freshly boiled water should be poured over the 2 teaspoons of tea and brew for 7-8 minutes. Green tea - 2 teaspoons of dry leafy tea are added to 200 ml of freshly boiled water and brew for 5-7 minutes. If you drink tea two minutes after brewing, it has a calming effect.

Tea culture is an essential part of daily life for all layers of society, providing a strong sense of cultural identity. There is no home in Azerbaijan where tea is not brewed at least once a day. 

All of the abovementioned facts prove that a unique tea culture has been formed in Azerbaijan. Tea is not only part of the daily diet, it’s part of the social and cultural fabric for every Azerbaijani. This is particularly evident in the rituals of hospitality. Immediately on arrival in an Azerbaijani family, a guest is given a glass of tea with sweets and lemon. This is the precursor to the substantial meal that will later be served in their honour. While guests are drinking tea, this gives them time to relax after their journey, chat and share news.    

In the 17th session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, held in Rabat, Kingdom of Morocco, on November 28 to December 3, 2022, particularly significant decisions were made for our country.   

In the session on December 1, the nomination "Culture of Çay (tea), a symbol of identity, hospitality and social interaction" jointly presented by Azerbaijan and Turkey was included in the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, receiving a positive opinion on all criteria by UNESCO's Evaluation Body.   

The nomination document was submitted under the joint cooperation of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Azerbaijan to UNESCO, the National Commission of Azerbaijan for UNESCO and the relevant institutions of Turkey.