With every new era, we lament the passing of one cultural paradigm or another; a technology is no longer needed or useful (rotary dial phones, typewriters, meat grinders), or a dance technique or art style fades in popularity, becoming the object of study for a few academics and hobbyists. Sadly, sometimes a region of the world will suffer from political upheaval and the encroachment of the outside world, wreaking havoc with a long-standing traditional food production. And so it seems with regard to the tea plantations of the tiny country of Georgia, on the eastern shores of the Black Sea, in the heart of the Caucasus mountains.
Once renowned for its production of a beautiful, strong black tea grown on the slopes of the Caucasus and along the shores of the Black Sea, time and political upheaval seem to have gutted an industry that relied heavily on the huge market and distribution machine that was the Soviet Union.
My son has just returned from Georgia, spending his Spring Break wandering from the northern border with Russia down through the capital, Tbilisi, and on to Batumi on the southern coast near the Turkish border. Knowing of his plans to visit the land that once produced a favored tea of mine, I gave him the mission of seeking out some to bring home to me.
My son is proficient in Russian, still a major language in Georgia which is a land of many languages, and being on a limited income stayed mostly in private homes, which is the area’s equivalent of hostels. He had plenty of opportunity to speak with locals, and sadly, this is what he had to say about his quest for Georgian tea: “I looked in every market in every town we went to, and found no tea. They just drink Lipton and instant NesCafe now. I asked at all the places we stayed and everyone told me the same thing. The tea plantations closed down years ago…”
It seems the Georgian tea industry has fallen by the wayside, a price paid for the independence of this small, critically-situated country from the former Soviet Union. In the meantime, Lipton and Nestles have found their way here to fill in the gap. One can only hope there may someday be investors willing to rebuild the tea plantations that once thrived here.