Tea plantations in the Republic of Georgia, on the border of the European continent
GEORGIAN TEA - It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Republic of Georgia, on the border of the European continent. But in the western part of that country, between palm- and eucalyptus trees, you will see large tea plantations.
How did this happen? By the end of the 19th century Georgian noblemen took an interest to Chinese tea and succeeded in cultivating a Georgian variety (after smuggling tea plants out of China, at a time when export was prohibited). The climate and soil in western Georgia turned out to be well suited for tea growing.
Georgian tea was highly appreciated in 19th century Russia, it won awards at a St. Petersburg exhibition. In the Soviet Union, Georgia became the main supplier of tea. More than 100,000 tons were produced annually. After the Soviet Union collapsed there was a period of downfall and neglect, but soon the privatization and restructuring of tea factories and plantations started. Some foreign firms, in particular German ones, established themselves in Georgia to take part in new forms of tea production.
In recent years, there are efforts to unite individual Georgian tea producers into cooperatives, with the aim of giving them a stronger position on the tea market. Georgian tea is mainly sold to foreign tea firms like Lipton, who process them together with other tea blends. Georgian tea is also being sold locally under its own labels, and is being exported to European countries like Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states, to Central Asian countries like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, but also the United States. The European Union is recently being targeted as an export market (Germany, the Netherlands, Poland).
Annual tea production in Georgia is estimated to be 8000 tons. The emphasis is more on quality than quantity now. Georgian tea producers are trying to compete by delivering superior quality compared to that of big international firms.
There is still room for new tea producers in the country. Georgians are very welcoming, actively looking for international cooperation, export opportunities and increased production. The Georgian government gives high priority to the ease of doing business in the country and is prepared to take measures to make business as easy as possible.