STiR coffee and tea magazine

Volume 5, Number 4

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66 STiR coffee and tea / Issue 4, 2016 (August/September) K Sochi farms cannot use equipment to harvest tea because of steep terrain Tea plantations in Sochi occupy 350 hectares, down from 1,400 a decade ago rasnodar was once the tea of Tsars. Russian tea culture dates to 1567, when court nobility returned with tea leaves from a trip to China. Russians have preferred tea to coffee ever since. The dream of cultivating tea on Russian soil dates back centuries but a harsh climate and severe frost make it nearly impossible to grow commercially. The sole exception is the Black Sea coastal city of Sochi. Determined innovators first tried growing tea toward the end of the 19th century in Krasnodar Krai on the Kuban River near Sochi. But a succession of hard frosts and the lack of empirical knowl- edge eventually killed even the hardiest bushes. By the end of the century Tsarist agronomists declared that it was not possible to grow tea in the Russian Empire, at least north of Georgia. Peasant Judas Koshman didn't heed these warnings and in 1901 despite frosts and snow was able to establish a commercial tea plantation of 800 plants in Solohaule, Krasnodar. Koshman had previously worked at several tea plantations in Georgia where he learned cold-weather practices that enabled his first tea harvest of 50 kilos in 1904. His original planting was from Georgian seed. Sochi remains the only region in Russia where tea is grown commercially. At one time Sochi produced nearly 60,000 metric tons but today the harvest is a modest 300 MT, a decline over the past 20 years from 2,000 MT. Picturesque plantations that prospered at that time have become expensive resorts, roads or stadiums. Some predict the remaining gardens will sink into oblivion. Russia's Native Tea Stands Despite Frost and Few Funds By Vladislav Vorotnikov The group also visited the Nagomari tea plantation, located in the hills about 60 kilometers east of the Black Sea, along the main highway from Kutaisi to Ba- tumi. Kakha Nachkebia, the plantation's technical manager, through an interpret- er, told us how the region's soil is ideal for growing tea, as is its climate (the tem- perature falls to -3 C in winter) and its altitude of 1,120 meters above sea level. A former electrician, Nachkebia, 42, has been working in tea for the last five years. He said the plantation's 33 employ- ees harvested just over one metric ton of tea leaves last year, but that an expansion under way will boost that to 15 tons an- nually within a few years. "In the 1990s, after the USSR col- lapsed, it was horrible for us Georgians. Everything stopped. Life froze. The indus- try was dead," he said. "But now we have a private company, and I have great hope that the industry will come back again." Nana Kirmelashviki owns the Nago- mari Tea House in Tbilisi as well as the plantation we visited. She said tea pluck- ers receive 2.20 Georgian lari (about 94 cents USD) per kilo, up from one lari (43 cents) two years ago. An average worker can pick 10 to 12 kilos of leaves per day, earning the equivalent of $11 — a re- spectable daily wage for a farmworker in this formerly communist country. "There is so much tea in the world, and there are so many manufacturers like China and India. But we have a chance," said Kirmelashvili, who has begun reha- bilitating her 10-hectare tea garden with a grant from the European Neighborhood Program for Agriculture and Rural Devel- opment (ENPARD), an initiative funded by the 28-member European Union. "We have decided to rehabilitate part of the plantation and start growing organic tea. I think that's the future for Georgia's tea industry," she said, explaining that ENPARD is giving her company €40,000 (US$44,000) over a five-year period. Na- gomari will put up €8,000 (US$9,000) of its own money for the project. In early June, tea industry represen- tatives gathered at the Argo Hotel in Kutaisi at an event co-sponsored by the Georgian government and ENPARD. According to George Misheladze, chief of the country's Agricultural Cooperative Development Agency, 40 of Georgia's 1,496 farm co-ops are in the tea sector — but only 21 of those 40 are actually

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