4 Estonians and a Lithuanian who farm tea in Georgia
15 January, 2019
4 Estonians and a Lithuanian who farm tea in Georgia
What comes to your mind when you hear Georgia? Lots of things: wine first of all, cuisine, nature and mountains covered with snow all year, tourism, but what about tea? Tea is not something Georgians usually offer to visitors.

But recently, a group of 5 Estonians have decided to come to Georgia and start their own business here. Around 30 years ago, during Soviet Union, Georgia was known for its tea plantations. Georgian tea used to be exported to other Soviet

Renegade Tea Estate – this is how the Estonians called their business and now export Georgian tea to other countries, even in Malaysia and Singapore.

So what made them to make this bold step and start business in Georgia. Georgian Journal found out more.

What made you to start business in Georgia?

Though most of us had visited Georgia before and really liked it as a tourist, we didn’t have a specific dream to start a business exactly in Georgia. One thing leads to another and we kind of stumbled upon the abandoned tea plantations of Georgia. Seeing those bushy, abandoned tea fields scattered around on the beautiful hills of western Georgia and the dwindling small towns, which are slowly emptying due to the lack of employment and prospects, really moved us and gave us the strong impulse and motivation to do something about it. We see a true mission and greater good in helping to revive the Georgian tea industry. We found out that there is a government program called Georgian Tea and largely thanks to the help of this program we managed to get started.

We also believe, that we can bring something different and unique to the global tea scene.

The tea industry is dominated by middlemen and big corporations. There is more tea produced in the world than is consumed and there are hundreds of companies branding and selling it. Yet it is hard to find even a handful of true next-door tea farmers who are growing, making and selling their high quality natural products under their own brand names. There is a general lack of authenticity as the profits are reaped by middlemen and distributors, leaving the farmers and producers in the shadows. Therefore, our goal is to be the most transparent tea company with the most personal customer experience, from planting the new seedlings until sending you a box of our teas.

Our own values and goals. There are three main things about business that we all share in our team — we don’t like politics and corporate games, we have always wanted to challenge the status quo and we share a passion for really good, authentic customer experiences. Therefore, quitting our office jobs in the Baltics and starting a small tea estate in Georgia felt like a pretty good match with our personal goals and ambitions.

In which region do you have plantations for tea?

Our plantations are located in Imereti region, in Mandikori, Opurchkheti and Gumati.

Do you package the product here in Georgia?

Yes, all of the production is done in Georgia, including packaging. Though, we then send all the teas to Estonia and send to customers from there. We send the teas from Estonia so customers in the European Union wouldn’t have to deal with customs declarations themselves, so the ordering process would be as easy as possible.

In 2018 our amounts were very little, but this year we also plan to have our tea available in Georgia.

Do you export this product abroad and if yes, in which countries?

Yes, we mainly export, our main target is Europe and North America. This year we have had customers for example from countries like USA, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Hungary and even Singapore and Malaysia.

Does Georgian tea has some special features or is it distinguished from other types of tea?

Georgian tea is much more softer and sweeter in taste, it also usually has some citrus and fruity notes in it. In our opinion this is a great advantage because nowadays people prefer sweeter teas, where they wouldn’t have to add anything extra like milk or sugar. We are especially excited to introduce the sweet and silky Georgian black teas to people who only know the very strong and bitter black teas from India or Africa and therefore dislike black tea.

Our plantations, like most of Georgian plantations, have a mixture of different cultivars which is quite rare in the rest of the world. This is a challenge in the production, but we see it as a positive challenge, since it also gives some unique taste notes to the tea.

As foreigners doing business in Georgia, what do you like / dislike in this country?

We have had quite a positive year in Georgia, people have been welcoming and paperwork is quite simple and straightforward. Communication with the government institutions has been a really positive surprise. Also, we are really grateful that the local people have welcomed us positively and do want to revive the abandoned tea plantations together with us. Without the support of local communities we wouldn’t be able to do it.

On the negative side, the situation with nature is something that makes us sad – mainly because of two things. Firstly, the amount of plastic bags that is used in the shops and the amount of garbage lying around everywhere, on the sides of the roads, on the fields etc. Secondly, the general attitude towards sustainability. For example, it is really sad to see in the villages near our plantations, how some people are taking advantage of the lack of rules in the stone mining area. Beautiful mountains are destroyed to zero and some villages are now located on a flat land, in a middle of a sand desert. We are afraid that this could happen also just next to our plantations, because it seems that the complaints from local people against the mining is like voices in the desert that no one hear.

We would really like to see Georgia to take a more nature-friendly attitude.

How many of you are in this business?

At the moment there are 5 of us as partners.

Do you plan to enlarge your business in Georgia?

We do hope to increase the number of partners and we will definitely have a lot more workers in the upcoming years, since this year we got harvest only from one plantation. Business wise we do not plan to become a large corporation and take more and more plantations. We have ca 50 ha altogether and we believe that this is more than enough for us, we focus on the quality of the tea and the authentic relationships with our customers.

In additon:

-We also cooperate with nearby small-scale tea farmers - one of our goals is to help them to also find an output for their tea fields. We buy leaves from them and then produce them in our factory. We also exchange our experiences – they share their traditional knowledge how tea has been made in Georgia and we share newer techniques from different parts from the world.

-The first year has been a very interesting one. We learned a lot, had many setbacks and also many wins, but by the end of the summer, our plantations started to look like real tea plantations in some parts and we managed to make tea in our factory. Of course, the amounts in 2018 were very little, but we have sold out almost everything by now and have got really positive feedback. People are really interested in Georgian tea, because this is something they haven’t heard about before and they have liked also the teas from our first year, so we are excited to start already with the next season!

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