The picturesque Georgian village of Kvenobani, nestling in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, is a long way to go to discover the secret of tea- making. But the experience is authentic and those adventurous enough to head there can make up their minds between spending a whole month to care for their “own” tea-garden, to grow and process their own tea from scratch or attend a four-day workshop in which Czech tea enthusiast Petr Sič will teach them the art of tea making.
“I am very much a community guy. I like communities; I like the concept of a shared economy, so it was just a matter of time when it would come into my life, and into my business. I was travelling around Georgia visiting different plantations and once I went to a tea garden and said to the owner - that is a beautiful plantation- and the owner said well, you can rent it –that’s possible. And I thought “Wow! I can have my own tea garden”, but then I realized it had five hectares, a big plantation and I though five hectares is really too big for one guy. But then I said to myself, maybe other people will join me and I can share it. So that’s how the idea arose.”
So you are renting out plots or tea gardens to people from the Czech Republic so they can go there and try their hand at growing tea from scratch, drying it, processing it and so on. Was it successful? Did people come over?
“Yes, at first I tried crowdfunding and got a really good response. But then I just got 7 people who rented out a plot and really worked on growing tea from scratch. Most people just came to visit and spend two or three days here.”
What sparked your interest in tea in the first place?
“It dates back to the time when I was a tea addict. It is a lovely plant. I like drinking it. It puts me in a good mood every time, makes me happier. I just enjoy drinking tea.”
“It’s like this. The colour of the tea – green, black, white or yellow is only the name of the process – how you process the tea leaves. From any tea plant you can make green tea, black tea or white…it depends on the processing. We are now mainly producing black and white tea.”
Do you sell the tea that you grow?
“Yes, I could not survive otherwise. I have really good partners among eco-shops in the Czech Republic, mostly zero-waste shops to whom I sell most on my teas.”
Is Georgian tea good? Did you know about it before you went?
“Of course, it has been sold in the Czech Republic for many years. Under communism it was the most sold tea on the market.”
“I have been in the tea business for ten years now and I was always curious, so wherever I went abroad and visited a plantation I would watch the farmers, watch to see what they did and how they processed the tea, so I gained experience along the way. But the first year in my tea garden was a real struggle, it taught me a lot and I realized I had a great deal to learn, that I was only on the starting line.”
The people who came to spend a month and grow their own tea – what did they experience? Did they really do everything from scratch?
“Yes, there was one lovely couple who came for the entire month. They cleaned their part of the garden, picked the tea leaves all by themselves. They did very well and even developed some new teas which I had not tried before. So it was really lovely. But most of my visitors could only spend around four days, so now I am trying to pack everything into a four day workshop – teaching them how to process tea leaves.”
So you are now running four-day work shops where you teach people how to make different types of tea?
“Yes, that is my new direction, because I quickly realized that many people do not have the time to spend a month here, so I am now offering this four-day workshop where they will get hands-on experience in processing and making tea from tea leaves.”
What kind of people are taking part? Travelers, students?
“Actually, not so much. Most of them are lawyers, engineers, IT specialists… I was surprised there were not more students in the groups who come. We even have doctors coming.”
So they come to relax –is that it? To get away from the stress of life here?
“I don’t know (laughs). We have this joke – What are Czech lawyers, doctors and IT specialists doing in Georgia? And the answer is – they are gardening in a tea plantation.”
You got support for this project from the Czech Development Agency, which indicates that it is a sustainable business project that helps the locals. Can you explain how?
“Yes, I got support from the Czech Development Agency at the outset and then I was on my own. So I am trying to bring more added value to the work, to the region, so that it will receive more money. I am hiring local workers and with one local company we are very good business partners. I am bringing clients from the Czech Republic here, who then make contacts with the locals, and I have a social program as well, like now I am returning to the village where I work and I will bring a load of sweaters and jackets to hand out among the locals.”
So, in addition to employing some of the locals, you are helping tea-tourism in Georgia. Is that popular there?
“Actually no, last year they had seven million tourists there and there was not a great deal for them to do, they still need to develop a tourist infrastructure. So in terms of tea-tourism it presents a good opportunity.”
What are the locals like in Georgia? How did they receive you?
“They are totally lovely. My God, I remember the times when I would come to some poor village and an elderly couple would take me home and insist they share their food with me. They are masters of hospitality. They are the most hospitable people in the world. They are really lovely.”
“Georgia is beautiful. They have high mountains around 5,000 meters above sea level, they have a sea, you can find a desert, they have deep forests – so in one country, on a small piece of the Earth, many interesting things to see and to do.”
What are your plans for the future in Georgia?
“I would like to bring more business opportunities to the locals to help them. I think they are good people, but the market is really small and if I can help them export their goods to the Czech Republic it would be really helpful for them.”