A semi-brief personal history with one of the lesser-known teas
Even if you aced geography in high school, you may need to consult a current map of Europe to find the source of these teas, because I’m not referring to Georgia USA but to Georgia FSU. The former soviet bloc state, located in the Caucasus Mountain region, is now an independent country, and they produce some very interesting and tasty teas.
My “love affair” with Georgia teas began several years ago. We were on our way home from a day down the shore in New Jersey, and stopped at Delicious Orchards farm market in Colts Neck. On the far side of their candy counter they had a display of loose-leaf teas. Packaged in clear plastic zipper bags, they were “sample” sized — about an ounce each — and priced at under a dollar each, so I figured I’d pick up a few. Along with the Darjeelings, senchas, fruit flavours, and English breakfast blends I discovered what they had labeled “Russian Georgian Tea.”
Of course I had sampled tea imported from Russia — various Kousmichoff and “czar” blends, as well as Wissotzky teas (the company originated in Moscow and is now located in Israel). But these were all China and India teas that had been re-packaged in Russia. I’d never heard of teas actually produced in Russia or Georgia. So I did some research and discovered that tea has been grown in Georgia since the mid-1800s!
That first cup of “Russian Georgian” tea (a misnomer, of course; Georgia is not part of Russia) was surprisingly good. Because we couldn’t get to Delicious Orchards very often, I began ordering the tea from them by the half-pound and then by the pound — that’s how much I liked it.
A short time later I found another Georgia tea in the Stash Tea catalogue, so I ordered a few ounces. The tea, I believe, was called Guria Long Leaf, and was listed under black teas. I don’t know if it was that particular sample of tea, or perhaps something in the shipping or storage, but I was disappointed with its rather flat taste. I later learned that Guria teas were the first to be produced in Georgia and had won awards in the late 1800s. Unfortunately this particular sample was simply not very good. (It appears that Stash stopped offering this, or any other, Georgia tea, so I’m guessing it was not a customer favourite.)
Fast-forward a couple of years — still sipping my “Russian” Georgian tea — when DH, on a trip to Sweden, stopped in at Tea Centre of Stockholm and brought home a few of their teas. The teas were clearly of a very good quality, so I took a look at their website: one of the teas they carry is Georgia tea! Tea Centre lists it as Grusinien, which I presume is the name either in Swedish or in one of the Caucasian languages of Georgia.
On his next trip to Sweden, DH brought back a few ounces of Grusinien — and again, wow! I liked it even better than the one from Delicious Orchards, and again I’ve been buying it by the half-kilo.
More recently, via the Teamail discussion group, we learned of a British company, Teacraft Ltd, that was working with Georgia growers and processors to market their teas. So far I’ve sampled four of those teas.
And that will take us to Part 2 of this rambling review, to be published next week.
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August 11, 2008: Please note that this article about Georgia tea was written months before the current invasion of Georgia by hostile Soviet (oops, I mean Russian) military forces. A sovereign nation invaded without provocation by a neighbouring aggressor, Georgia has suffered thousands of casualties and deaths, and a large percentage of her population are or are about to become refugees. At this time, not only have the Georgian airport and seaport been destroyed, but the Russians have entered and mounted an assault in the Georgian capital of Tblisi all the way to the Black Sea, cutting the country in half. And why have the Russians attacked a peaceful neighbour? They claim it was to protect the ethnic Russian citizens of South Ossetia province in the north of Georgia. That, of course, does not explain why the Russians, ignoring Georgia’s offer of truce, instead pushed through Tblisi to the Black Sea — neither of which is located in South Ossetia. Here’s the real reason for the invasion: the Russians are unhappy that the trans-Caucasus oil pipeline bypasses Russia and instead goes directly through … you guessed it … Georgia. And make no mistake: this invasion of one of the USA’s staunchest allies is also intended as a warning to the USA to stop threatening Iran, a major trading partner of Russia’s. Anyone who thought the Cold War was over better rethink it. Or, as John McCain has said: “When I look into Vladimir Putin’s eyes I see the letters K-G-B.” Updates as they become available. – TeaGuide
August 18, 2008: Despite their agreement to cease their aggression ;-), apparently the Russians really are starting to pull out of Georgia. The USA and several other countries ratcheted up the criticism somewhat, but most of the credit belongs to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While all the noisemakers were in China or on vacation or just looking for media sound bites, Ms. Merkel paid a visit to Moscow and quietly reminded Vlad Putin of the damage inflicted on Russia and the Soviets by Germany in two world wars — and that it could very possibly happen again. Given Germany’s sophisticated military versus Russia’s aging equipment and dwindling population, this was clearly an “offer” that Russia could not refuse. Meanwhile, the implications of Russia’s invasion of Georgia have not been lost on neighbouring former Soviet possessions: Poland signed an agreement with the USA for missiles, bases, and military support; Romania has purchased 9 billion dollars worth of military aircraft and equipment; Ukraine and Belarus have indicated that they will withdraw their membership in the Russian confederation, with Ukraine and Georgia requesting admission to NATO. President Bush, amongst other world leaders, has stated clearly that South Ossetia “must and will remain an integral province of The Republic of Georgia,” not to be conquered and annexed by aggression. My question to all of them is: Why do you recognize the Serbian province of Kosovo as a separate state, and why didn’t you denounce the Albanians when they waged war against a sovereign nation and annexed an integral province of that nation into another Albanian moslem state? Sauce, goose, gander. – TeaGuide
August 20, 2008: The Russians lied, Georgian people died. Yep, they’re still there, having pulled out of exactly one village. Georgians are reduced to standing in line for hours for the basics of food and water. Except for the Georgians who’ve simply been reduced to rubble. Those tanks that you see in the mainstream media aren’t rumbling down city streets, they’re rumbling through homes and businesses, whether anyone’s inside or not. Most people watching the news reports see an antiseptic war because left-leaning media don’t want to expose the stink — I mean chinks — in Russia’s so-called human-rights armour. The sheer brutality of smashed skulls and crushed bodies is pure vintage Russian/Soviet modus operandi. Now they’re threatening the East European and Baltic countries that have taken precautions against being Russia’s next invasion target. And they’re threatening the USA, too. The UN, as usual, issues spineless condemnations on paper and does nothing to back them up. Well, if you ask me, this would be a good time to dust off the Enola Gay and fly it over Moscow. As Toby Keith puts it: this big dog will fight when you rattle his cage. And Russia seems determined to rattle both their sabres and our cage. – TeaGuide