Chess is a popular pastime in Azerbaijani society. spanning from the time of the country’s Republic of c. 1920. From Baku’s first tournament in 1923, won by the Makogonov brothers Azerbaijani’s have thrown themselves into the game with trade unions backing its development – and to current times where president Ilham Aliyev (chair of the National Olympic Committee ) initiated a state funded chess development programme.

Not only do people enjoy this strategic and social game but are also experts in it; with Azerbaijan’s grand master Shakhriyar Manedyarov  ranking 2nd in the world according to FIDE 2018 rankings.

In the past 3 World Team Championships Azerbaijan has hit the top 10 in positioning; coming 4th in 2010’s championships held in Bursa, Turkey. From 2009 – 2013, at The European Chess Championships held in Europe, Azerbaijan has come first and second.

Chess has deep cultural roots too with some of the best loved Azerbaijani poets and writers speak about the intricacies of chess, power and formation including within the works of the loved Khagani Shirvan and Nizami Ganjavi.

It is not uncommon to see games of chess being played during the day in public spots either. For example in the famous Fountain Square in Baku.

Tea Culture

It is difficult to walk along the streets of Baku on a sunny day without seeing soirees of people nattering over a cup of tea. It sounds familiar to western contemporary coffee culture, however this tradition is cast in the roots of Azerbaijani culture.

Tea can be taken at any time during the day and you will often see tea shops open until late, 9 / 10pm at night where young people socialise away from pubs and clubs. Mainly herbal and fruit teas, it Azercay tea is the most common black tea on offer, which tastes similar to Assam. It is unlikely that you will ever be provided milk to have with your tea – however with a slice of lemon and a cube of sugar the beverage is delicious without.

It is a traditional hospitality trait for Azerbaijani’s to offer tea to guests before and after meals. It will be served in a crystal cut teardrop glass and often accompanies by sugary sweets and mixed nuts (cashews & almonds are common) as well as traditional sweets. Despite always being a domestic hospitality ritual, the social element of drinking tea was once only a man’s proactive, with women even being banned from ‘Chaykhana’s’ (tea houses) across Azerbaijan. Of course this is not an occurrence now – it is as common to see as many female groups as male in traditional and contemporary tea houses.

With tea having been a popular import and export for centuries, Azerbaijan has been at the crossroad and there are a rising number of contemporary options for young Azerbaijani’s wishing to socialise. Including the introduction of fruity Caffetier’s from Russia, Green Tea from China and a huge amount of coffee and cake from the west.

Starbucks and Gloria’s Coffee being some of the larger popular brands that have in recent years popped up in hangouts and shopping malls around Baku.