Why did I decide to become a tea farmer?


Kristiina Mehik

I have never been a teaholic , I have started my mornings with a cup of coffee and honestly still do, but I have also enjoyed tea every other evening or so. A year ago I was ok drinking tea made with a teabag and didn’t know that black tea and green tea come from the same plant. Also, it was news to me that black tea can be smooth and tasty and that it’s not unhealthy – a typical myth in Estonia. Hence, I can’t really say that deep love for tea was the driving cause for me… but I still got excited about being a tea farmer for several reasons.

Nature and countryside

I grew up in a small town on an island called Saaremaa and I have spent most of my childhood summers at my grandparents’ farm. Taking care of the farm animals was my favourite thing to do, even if it meant that I had to wake up at 6:30 on a school holiday so I could feed the cows. This and the fact that my parents have always taken me (often against my will during my teenage years :) ) to the nature as much as possible, have created a love and a connection with the countryside and nature. After high school, moving to a bigger city felt like a dream come true, but over the years this yearn to get out of the concrete jungle, closer to nature, grew bigger and bigger. I still also enjoy the city life, but in small quantities. When tired of the busy-bee lifestyle I need a walk by the sea or in the bog or just some gardening to load my batteries again. So, to start a tea farm? Sounds good to me. Only, can anybody bring the sea closer to Kutaisi 😊 ?

baltic sea

Georgia

I have always had some warm feeling about Georgia. Maybe it’s because both Estonia and Georgia are former Soviet Union countries. We share a similar past and many goals and ideals, trying to overcome the scars of the Soviet era, are the same today for Georgia as they were for Estonia 15-20 years back. Or maybe because Georgia has always been treated as a friend in Estonia. It could also just be the warm climate and mountains that we lack in Estonia and which therefore seem appealing. When I visited Georgia for the first time a few years ago, I left with some mixed emotions. The dynamic, ever-growing city of Tbilisi was in such a contrast to the sad-looking countryside. Though, the warmth of the people and stunning nature gave only positive emotions. Therefore, when Georgia was on the table as a possible “second home”, I had a gut feeling that said - yes, this is the place.

Ophurchkheti tea factory. 2017.

Ophurchkheti tea factory. 2017.

Ophurchkheti tea factory. 2017.

Ophurchkheti tea factory. 2017.

But it was the collapsed tea industry that really got to me. Reading about the history and looking at the pictures of ghost-towns which used to be big centres of tea production and huge abandoned plantations which nobody needs anymore, I couldn't really comprehend, it seemed just surreal and sad. How could an industry so big fall so fast? While the tea industry was growing in other parts of the world, why did Georgian tea collapse? I needed to know more. We started to research about the Georgian tea industry and tea itself more and more. The possibility to make a change, to revive some old tea plantations and to help the impoverished Georgian countryside, seemed compelling. Also, tea itself, how the taste is influenced by growing, processing, drinking etc, started to grow on me.

Something of my own

I was lucky to start my professional career in a team, where we were not “workers”, but everyone around me had the same attitude - what we do, matters to us and everything we do, we do also for ourselves. It seemed natural for me, as this is how I always imagined my future – that “work” is something that is important to me and which I enjoy every day. I can’t fully understand people, who do the “8-5 rat race” where most people don’t really care about the success of the company and forget about work the moment the door closes behind. When I do something, I go all in.

At the time, when we started to discuss the possibility to go to Georgia and start a different life, I wasn’t really at a similar point with my career as Hannes (read his story here) I still had loads of ambitions and challenges ahead. I was leading a team of more than 20 people in a challenging and ever-changing market situation - this was something I dreamt of when I started in this company and I definitely hadn’t achieved all my goals yet. So, to make a U-turn now… I wasn’t fully sure. But things weren’t quite the same anymore - as the company grew, the team was also growing and it was more and more difficult to keep the same “we are all owners” culture intact. Bureaucracy and corporate games were creeping in, slowly but steadily, and I started to question where we are heading. I felt that the new ways didn't really fit with my own views. I wanted to be “all in” and I wanted that everybody else would be “all in” as well. Thus, over some months I reached a point where I felt that change is inevitable.

It was a bit intimidating in the beginning, but over the months, as we were drawing up our plans and ideas, my confidence grew stronger. I realized that to start a Tea Estate in Georgia, with a small team of fellow Renegades, is something that could be really challenging but also cool and rewarding. I decided to take the leap and make a change.

Kristiina and teaplantations in Georgia.

So, tea and Georgia, here I come… 😊


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