We were sure we were lost as our car bumped along field tracks through overgrown oceans of tea and ferns, so tall in places that branches tapped on our windows. I was travelling through Georgia’s tea heartlands with two friends on a discovery voyage of herbal tea tradition for our new business. Little did I know that these roads would, one year later, lead me to an unexpected destination – joining the Renegade team.
From England to Georgia’s tea fields
I first arrived in Georgia four years ago, pedalling over the Georgian-Turkish border on my bicycle. I’d left my home in Herefordshire, UK, five months prior and cycled across Europe. Tea was one of the most precious cargo in my panniers – I’d been rationing my supply.
Dusty black tea in a bag with milk is the taste of home for me; in the UK, the kettle boils before you set foot through your front door. But, I realised in Georgia that we Brits haven’t been doing tea right for all these years. The flavours that can be coaxed from the humble tea leaf are quite astonishing.
There’s no business like the tea business
Tbilisi’s bohemian courtyards, fruit trees and awful traffic quickly became home; I worked as a writer and translator and adopted a dog – Leila. But, Georgia’s mountains and diverse landscapes drew me closer.
In Samegrelo in Western Georgia (a couple of valley’s over from Renegade’s plantations), tea covers the rolling hills. Cows munch on the bushes that are now hidden by weeds. These days, many of the bushes are torn up and replaced with hazelnut plantations. I spent six months last winter living beside the fire in a wooden cottage, dreaming up a tea business and drinking litres of tea together with Tim and Tom, my business parterns. We hoped to be a bridge between Georgian tea makers and the UK, help rural regions develop sustainably and help Georgian tea find new markets.
We launched Nela-Nela, our business, but it was tough for many reasons. We underestimated how difficult it would be to start a tea company (as you most likely already know from the Renegades). Nonetheless, it was beautiful to meet the tea community and be seated at a Supra table as business partners rather than guests.
Unexpected roads to the Renegades
I first met Hannes and Kristiina over Khinkali dumplings in Kutaisi last summer on our tea travels. We were curious to meet these people who swapped their corporate careers for tea bushes in Georgia, with all the ferns, bears and village politics that come with it. Being a part of their Renegade story will be a new adventure.
The world would be a better place if everyone drank leaves directly from organic tea fields and small farms like the ones we visited in Western Georgia last summer. The dust in tea bags passes through many hands on its way to a supermarket shelf; very little benefit is felt by the hands that actually pick and make it. This is one of the reasons why I love what the Renegades do: They change our connection to tea whilst providing jobs and taking care of the land.
Last week, I packed my car with my dog, my tea hat and my welly boots and drove westwards to Kutaisi. I’ll spend lots of time with your tea bushes, exploring the plantations and bringing you news from the fields. I can't help stop thinking how lucky I am to call a tea plantation my office and to be a part of the Renegade's inspiring story.
I'm looking forward to getting to know you all – see you soon!