May 23 , 2018
Spoiler alert: It's not where you'd expect it.
While I have forgotten my fair share of things in life, one moment I remember clear as water is the day I drank my first cup of green tea. It was 1999, and I sipped it with Mr. Hakan Genc (pronounced “Gench,” Turkish for “young,” which he was not – at least not in comparison to me). Mr. Genc was General Manager of Arkas International Shipping Company, and we had just shared a productive working lunch in his office in Istanbul, Turkey. Yes, that’s right. Not Shanghai. Not Tokyo or Kyoto. Not Beijing or Shenzhen. But Istanbul – home of the infamous Turkish tea.
Green tea, in Turkey?
I know what you’re thinking… Turkish tea? That’s black tea, right? Brewed super strong and served with sugar cubes. What’s this girl doing talking about drinking green tea in Turkey? I know, right? That’s what I thought too...
For the record, Turkish tea is what turned me on to drinking tea in the first place. Then I met green tea. And I’ve been steeping myself in the grassy liquid ever since.
I was 28, American, and a “gelin” (Turkish for “bride,” but the term sticks with you forever, or for as long as you’re a daughter-in-law), and had gone to work in my father-in-law’s international container port, under early-stage construction. My company role as gelin had expanded to take on the composition of the port’s marketing and feasibility study – my most kick-ass writing project ever, even to this day – and would go on to garner millions in World Bank funding. My Turkish father-in-law had spent three decades quietly and patiently piecemealing together parcels of land, and now possessed access to and ownership of the last contiguous stretch of coastal land in the Marmara Region of the Mediterranean. It was 1,000 meters of beautiful.
What was he going to do with this Mediterranean gem? If you’re thinking beach-front vacation home or resort property, you’re brilliant, and a kindred spirit. But you don’t know my father-in-law.
No, Mr. Deger is developing an international container port, to traffic goods between Istanbul and the Middle East, Southern Europe and Northern Africa. This region is like rush hour on a two-lane highway. And he’s building an eight-lane highway. With an overpass. And express lanes.
Cultural win #1, always say yes when offered
So back to my working lunch with the shipping company manager… We’d been exchanging perspectives on market penetration and our energies were about to wane after a filling but not too heavy lentil lunch. The server came into his office to clear our dishes, then Mr. Genc asked if I’d like a cup of tea. Of course, I accepted, as was the only correct answer when offered tea – or anything really – in Turkey. This was one cultural win I had learned well and depended on.
The server returned with two bone china cups of green tea.
From then our steady energy stream construed target markets for this container port of the future; we estimated throughput and reduced wait times at bay; he questioned and tempered the nature of my inner marketer to overstate and over-amplify the glory of Belde Container Port; and we workshopped the shit out of marketing position statements.
All the while the green tea kept flowing. Brain alchemy, partner chemistry, the more we spoke the smarter we both grew. My third-eye chakra saw it all so clearly before me. The figures even added up, and nicely.
THIS was the beginning of my slow and still climaxing love affair, with green tea.