Two and a half years in Georgia

Season two at the Renegade Tea Estate has officially concluded as the last batch of our teas from Georgia has finally arrived in Tallinn. So, it is a proper time to make a small summary of the year we had at our Estate.

To be honest, it was a tough one. Maybe not as nerve-wracking as the first season, but close enough. It's not that we had some unpleasant surprises or unexpected crises. It's more the constant struggle with a mixture of things - like our own incompetence and the steep learning curve in pretty much everything we do or the lack of funds or numerous other curveballs. 

After two seasons, one thing is clear - we did not predict correctly how much effort and resources it takes to fight weeds (organically) on 30+ hectares of rehabilitated tea plantations.

Mario in fern
Mario is over 2 meters is the fern...

As our quantities are still very small, then the main cost items are not packages, plucking the leaves, electricity etc. Financially it is tricky because fighting with weeds is actually the hardest when the tea bushes are small and unproductive.

But starting any new business is challenging in the beginning and we didn't expect smooth sailing when we rearranged our lives to become tea farmers in Georgia. And if we put a small distance between ourselves and the daily struggles of our fledgling tea estate, then in the grand scheme of things we could have not asked for much more. So, despite the challenges, there were many positive developments that will soon stay to the 2019 history annals.  

The factory

It was just a ruined and empty warehouse 2 years ago. After 18 months of continuous work, we got the official permit from the municipality, which says that our factory is finally finished and ready!

Actually, there is still some work left to do. Interior works in our office/lounge area are not completed and there is quite a bit of landscaping and fence building around the factory that we need to complete next year. But it is a huge relief, that the end is finally at sight.

renegade factory old
The factory in 2017

renegade factory new
The factory in 2019, almost ready

Rioni Estate

At one point in August, we had literally given up on our planned 3rd plantation. Because of some mysterious bureaucratic issues it was stuck for months and at some point, we thought that we will never sign the contract for it. But as soon as we started to think how to move forward, the positive reply from ministry finally came.

We did some works in Rioni already last winter, but as the delays started and we couldn't understand the problem, we put the further investments and works on hold until everything is sorted out. Fortunately, the experience from Renegade Estate seems to indicate, that it might be actually good to give the tea bushes some time to adjust and leave them alone for the first summer after the initial cleaning. We will clean Rioni properly again in the coming January-February. After that we can confirm with certainty what is the situation, but I believe that Rioni will turn out to be very nice next summer. We will see.

Tea making

Oh yeah. The main thing… Well, not so bad I think. In 2018, we were really just punching around. Just trying different stuff and hoping that we can figure out the cause and effect. This year, we were working already much more systematically, trying to figure out our line of teas and I think anyone who has tried a selection of our teas can feel it. It's still a long way to go for sure, but I think we have made a huge step forward in understanding our tea bushes, the process in general, the impact of the weather and season.

Especially with oolongs and to some extent blacks, there are still many adjustments to be made. But by now, we have a few teas in all categories that we are quite happy with. There are others that need tweaking and there will be some that we will drop from our selection next year.

renegade teas

We are getting there, step-by-step. I think that nobody knows the real potential of Georgian tea and it will positively surprise many over the next decades.

Renegade and Mandikori Estates

I already dedicated a special section for Rioni, so let's talk about Renegade and Mandikori.  In 2018, we made just 100 kg of tea, most of it from leaves we bought from small village gardens. In 2019, we made 430 kg, almost all of it from our own plantations. In 2020, we plan to make another significant step forward with our quantities.

Renegade starts to look like a real plantation. On some plots we got quite a decent harvest already this year. Some plots, which we thought were completely dead, started to finally grow and develop this summer. In Mandikori we are still struggling a bit more, as the weeds seem to love this place a lot. Nevertheless, it was satisfying to see that eventually the fern starts to get weaker if we keep suppressing it.

mandikori estate
Mandikori Estate - fern does love it..

What to conclude?

We are still alive and progressing after two pretty rough years, which is good. From our 430 kg, 75% is sold by now and again we have had to turn down some opportunities because we just don't have enough tea. Clearly our biggest challenge and goal for the next couple of years is to increase the production volumes, but we can't force nature to be faster.

The next season will be also without a doubt very challenging. We will have three plantations to take care of, so the amount of weed-fighting will only grow. And it will still be tough also financially as we start to gear up the production in earnest.  The good news is that after 2020 it should start to go easier every year as the plantations mature.

team picture renegade

We have still one month left of our winter break. On 8th of January we go back to Kutaisi to start preparing our plantations for the new season. Another year of learning ahead of us!

Happy holiday season to everyone! As always, any feedback, questions or comments are welcome!

Written by Hannes