Georgian Tea

Having noted the thread on Ahmad Tea that become a discussion about Russian tea and thence Georgian tea, and the response to the brick tea thread, it is perhaps time to tell what I am doing in Georgia.
Since March this year, I have been working on the rehabilitation of the Georgian tea industry First some history: after the Glorious Revolution the Soviets looked for a place to grow tea. Russia was not climatically suitable but Georgia was found to be capable of producing some good bushes of China type tea. Post WW2 the tea crop in Georgia went up from 11,400 tonnes (1940) to 83,100 (1975) to 140,500 tonnes (1985), all of this destined for the USSR. Georgia was supplying about 90% of the USSR requirement. Then came Chernobyl in 1986, and the break up of the USSR in 1991. After Chernobyl Russia commenced import from India (against arms exports), and when the "free" market was set up, from Sri Lanka, now No.1 supplier to Russia. After her independence Georgia went through a civil war 92 to 95. As you can imagine, growing tea was not the highest priority, and the fields and factories suffered, so much so that the crop in 2001 was only 5,000 tonnes – just 4% of the peak crop in the 1980's.
To produce such a large crop the Soviets modified the orthodox machinery format originally borrowed from the old British colonial days. They built the machines bigger and stronger and made it into a continuous process, introduced mechanical harvesting and technology to maximise volume production. The only thing that suffered was quality, and O My how it suffered! Tea made from bush clippings including old leaf and twigs and branches. Tea that was as black as ink, and about as tasty. Tea that barely ever scraped into the lax ISO specifications of tea.
Now when I go round some of the vast abandoned echoing factories, with their crumbling concrete and rusting machines, and faded posters exhorting quality (!) and mosaics showing earth mother pluckers and be-muscled machine technicians, it is difficult to believe they were so productive. But like a germinating seed Georgian tea making is making a resurgence, growing strongly through the ruins. However, like all seedlings it may survive or die depending on the conditions it encounters.
I have accepted the challenge and am supplying consultancy advice to a grouping of six entrepreneurial companies who are trying to throw off the old image of volume production and evil quality. Admittedly that will be difficult to achieve as to improve they have to invest from their own pockets, and that investment has to come from sales, that will only occur when the tea is improved. A circular problem to be sure, but previously it was a downward spiral!
The future of Georgian tea has to be as a premium specialty tea , not as a bulk producer. Since March I have been able to make some changes to the process, to teach a better understanding of quality, to reinforce the need for good quality green leaf. Last year's tea samples were bad. This year's tea samples, so far, are mainly better, some are very good. I am there again in August and I am expecting samples made then to be much improved. .
I sincerely hope that r.f.d.t devotees will take an interest in this potential new origin of specialty tea. We are planning a Georgian tea web site, but until that is running please feel free to ask questions, make observations, or to reserve free tasting samples via
Nigel at Teacraft
Reply to
Nigel at Teacraft (Nigel at Teacraft) writes:
Sorry, I'm confused. Are you saying that Chernobyl itself had an effect on the tea industry? Georgia isn't that close to Chernobyl, is it? I seem to remember hearing about the plume blowing north.
Best of luck, and please keep us posted!
Reply to
Lewis Perin
The breaking of USSR was not a quick process. Chernobyl was a start point. Chernobyl could not affect to the Georgia tea directly...
Yours sincerely, Alexey K. Russia
Reply to
Yes, it had an effect on both Georgia and Turkey. I was in Turkey that fateful day, building a tea factory in a fairly isolated Black Sea coast area and we heard nothing of the problem until a couple of days later. By then the cloud had backed across the area and rain had dumped radioactive dust onto our tea and onto us! Samples I took back to UK in all innocence were quite hot! EU limit for radioactivity in tea is 500 Bequerels per kg, our tea was 40,000 plus Bq/kg!! Samples had to be disposed of in our laboratory as "low grade radioactive waste". We were screened for Caesium isotope uptake into our thyroid glands. Over the years Turkish tea quite quickly resumed its normal background level, and I am happy to find that Georgian tea has done the same - now sampling at 350 Bq/kg. Most world tea is at around this level particularly if grown on young volcanic soils, as much tea is.
A footnote to this is that I have found a company in Georgia producing a nicely packed and very palatable iodised tea for export to Russia and the Ukraine. In iodine deficient affected areas the added iodine in the tea displaces the radioactive caesium in the thyroid glands and therefore reduces cancer risk, particularly important in growing children. I remember iodised salt being available in UK (some deficiency in limestone areas) but apparently iodine is more stable if applied to tea than to salt.
Nigel at Teacraft
Reply to
Nigel at Teacraft

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