Innovation is brewing in Georgia’s tea industry

Today is International Tea Day! This popular drink – the second most consumed beverage after water – is an important source of economic growth, jobs and income for millions of people.

In Georgia, state authorities, tea producers and entrepreneurs are using innovation and ingenuity to revitalize the country’s once thriving tea sector.

Georgia and neighbouring Azerbaijan once supplied most of the tea consumed in the former Soviet Union, only to see their industries decline rapidly following the Soviet collapse.

In 2021, FAO partnered with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on a comprehensive analysis of the tea sectors in both countries. The study zeroed in on the investments and policy needed to advance the sector.

Following completion of the study, Georgia’s state-run Tea Rehabilitation Programme was revised, said Jumber Maruashvili, a Senior National Policy Adviser at FAO Georgia, with most of the study’s findings and recommendations aligning with the country’s vision.

“Georgia has unique tea growing conditions and natural tea stock, and the global market for organic, green and health and wellness teas is growing, especially in the United States and Europe,” he said. “One of our study’s recommendations is that Georgian tea producers move away from the industrial production of cheaper, low-grade teas in favour of high-quality niche products destined for high-value markets.”

A focus on quality

The Nagomari Tea Cooperative, created in 2015, in Georgia’s Ozurgeti region is among the innovators shaking things up.

According to Director and Co-founder Nana Kirmelashvili, the cooperative has invested in rehabilitating old tea plantations, buying special equipment and machinery and studying new technologies to produce high-quality organic teas. About 90 percent of the cooperative’s employees are local women.

“We’ve developed high-quality collectible teas that are eco-friendly and available in limited editions,” she said.

“With each collection, we want to share a story with tea lovers and intensify the emotional experience of tea drinking,” she added. “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.”

Placing Georgian teas on the map

A group of young Georgian entrepreneurs has been working with the government and other private sector players to put Georgian teas back on the map. Literally.

They have pushed to develop a tea route in Georgia along the lines of the country’s well-established wine routes – and get the country included in the European culture tea route.

Besarion Zalikiani and a group of friends first developed the idea for Georgia’s tea route in 2019, highlighting organic tea companies, tea cooperatives like Nagomari, tea houses, museums and cultural tea events.

“We want to give tourists and tea lovers opportunities to discover and taste Georgian teas, learn about the country’s tea-producing history, see how the teas are made today, participate in picking tea leaves, and much more,” he said.

For Nemanja Grgic, Associate Director, Agribusiness, from EBRD, “This push among tea producers, small and large, to invest in quality, sustainability and innovation and to create unique tea-related experiences for tourists can really help position Georgia as an important niche tea-producing country and spur inclusive economic growth in the country.”

Dmytro Prykhodko, FAO Investment Centre Senior Economist, added that “the vision and enthusiasm from both the public and private sectors and their regular dialogue via the tea working group, especially regarding the development of small and medium producers, are contributing to this dynamism we’re seeing today.”


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