A chat with some of the innovators shaping Georgia’s tea industry

Georgia’s once thriving tea industry – responsible for much of the tea consumed by the former Soviet Union until its collapse in the 1980s – is witnessing a rebirth. High-quality niche products catering to discerning consumers are replacing the industrial production of inexpensive, low-quality teas.

This focus on quality over quantity matches a key recommendation from an in-depth analysis that FAO and the EBRD conducted on Georgia’s tea sector. The study highlights the different types of investments and policy needed to make the sector more competitive, sustainable and inclusive.

The renaissance is being led by the government, entrepreneurs and tea producers in the country, like the Nagomari Tea Cooperative from Georgia’s Ozurgeti region. Nana Kirmelashvili, the cooperative’s director and co-founder, spoke about providing tea lovers with a full tea-drinking experience, tea tourism and an industry that is flourishing.

Tell us about the Nagomari Tea Cooperative?

The Nagomari Cooperative was established in 2015. We started from zero, on a plantation of up to 1 hectare. We set up a small business, which we later expanded. We invested in special equipment and machinery, studied new technologies, focused on producing organic teas and employed the local population, around 90 percent of them women.

The cooperative rehabilitated wild, 30-year-old plantations and currently owns over 10 hectares and leases 5.3 hectares from the government. We operate two medium-sized enterprises with a complete technological line conforming to ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standards.

We branded our own products and positioned them in the Georgian market. We even exported to the United States of America but had to stop during the pandemic.

What makes your teas unique?

We’ve developed high-quality collectible teas that are eco-friendly and available in limited editions. We don’t produce products for mass consumption, nor do we use chemicals or pesticides. And the tea leaves are hand-picked. With each collection, we want to share a story with tea lovers and intensify the emotional experience of tea drinking. Our vision is to elevate tea to the level of art, create independent collections, and, through them, be recognized as one of the best brands in the community of tea lovers. Our debut collection included eight different types of tea – Energy, Balance, Inspiration, Alter Ego, Metamorphosis, Gratitude, Concentration and Meditation. Our goal is to place this new brand in luxury hotels, restaurants, cafes and exclusive tea shops in Georgia and Europe within two years, and in specialty stores and auctions in England, specifically London, the United States and Asia, within five to six years.

How do you hope tea tourism will change the region?

The municipality of Ozurgeti is actively promoting tea as one of the region’s key products, and a new tea route has been mapped out for tea-loving tourists, featuring the Nagomari Cooperative as one of the locations. Tourists can participate in tea picking, processing and tasting. This will contribute significantly to enhancing the region’s image, identifying it as an area with significant tea resources and placing it on the map of world tea producers. This is very important because the natural climate and terrain are what distinguish Georgian tea.

How do you hope Georgia’s tea industry will evolve in the coming years?

Our cooperative is one of the innovators that began to consider tea production. At that time, it was just an illusion, but now there are many new producers in the region. Many people have found employment in the tea industry. However, accessing a real market is challenging for all manufacturers. The issue of tea quality is also important. In our company’s opinion, only by producing very high-quality products will Georgia be identified among the world’s exclusive niche tea producers.

Georgia is a very small country, and Ozurgeti is an even smaller part of it. It is important to unite the region’s producers making high-quality tea products in order to access local and international markets as a unified force and position Georgian tea strategically.

More involvement from the Georgian government is necessary. Just as the state and private sector forces were consolidated in the direction of Georgian wine, Georgian tea should be popularized, and the export direction activated in the tea industry. It is necessary to facilitate the integration of natural Georgian tea products into international expos. Only in this context is it possible to develop this field.

Photo credit © Nagomani Cooperative



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