Follow Mint Lounge

Latest Issue

Home > Food> Drink > Black tea from a wine country

Black tea from a wine country

In Georgia, there’s an emergence of family-run tea farms that are reviving old tea bushes that are growing wild

The tea has fruity aromas with distinct earthy, mineral flavour notes.
The tea has fruity aromas with distinct earthy, mineral flavour notes. (Istockphoto)

It’s time to wind down for the year, to take stock and to reset. I look for a suitable tea to keep me company. This year, it’s a tea that came as a gift from Gautam, a reader of this column and now a tea friend. It’s a wild black tea that he brought back from a holiday in Georgia.

Also read | How to make khinkali, the delicious dumpling of Georgia

I hadn’t even thought of Georgia as a tea-making country. Wine, yes but why should tea be left behind? Gautam sent very helpful notes with the tea, and a story. In Tblisi, he said, “While strolling along a small side street one evening, I chanced upon a tea museum and a shop.” He went in and tasted tea and enjoyed a conversation. The museum and store, housed in an old cellar, is run by Giorgi and his father, Shota Bitadze. The wild black tea was recommended by Giorgi.

I set up the tea to taste. The dry leaves are dark, long and twisted. The infusion has a distinct fruity aroma, reminding me that it comes from wine country. It brews a dark cup, with earthy, mineral notes that dominate. Not like Darjeeling nor Assam, it’s a black tea from a different terroir.

Georgian tea history, I discover, is a good two centuries old. Back in the late 18th and through the 19th century, Russian tea imports were massive. Of course, this brought the expected problems: dark tales of smuggling, fraud and adulteration. Remember, this was a time when China was the world’s sole source of tea. As if in answer, Georgia, sharing a border with Russia, offered a solution to this tea problem.

If Scottish botanist Robert Fortune was our tea thief, “smuggling” tea saplings from China to India in the 1830s-40s, Georgia boasts its own—Miha Eristavi, a Georgian prince who smuggled tea seeds in lengths of bamboo and took them home to set up tea plantations in Guria, western Georgia, in 1847. Tea cultivation didn’t quite take off until the turn of the century when a Georgian businessman, Konstantin Popov, brought a Chinese tea master to help. Georgia’s heyday of tea came in the 20th century. It was a time when the country was the fourth-largest tea producer in the world. As part of the erstwhile USSR from 1922-1991, Georgian tea evolved into a mass producer, with mechanised plantations ensuring volumes rather than finesse. And then the USSR dissolved in the 1990s. Georgia’s tea industry collapsed overnight.

Now, 30 years later, there’s an emergence of family-run tea farms that are reviving old tea bushes that are growing wild, rediscovering tea practices, and making a variety of tea. They are wisely choosing craftsmanship over mass production. Like Giorgi and his father who have trained in the Chinese style of tea making. There are artisanal tea farmers, tea tours, craft teas—a country famous for its wine is renewing an old relationship with tea.


The only accessible source, besides kind and generous friends, is the Palais de Thés store in Paris that offers a selection of fine Georgian tea and ships worldwide.

Tea Nanny is a fortnightly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. She posts @AravindaAnanth1 on Twitter. 

Also read | Georgia: Highway to the Caucasus

Next Story