Support to Investment

Potential is brewing for tea growers in Georgia and Azerbaijan

different varieties of tea
21/05/2020

When you think of tea growing countries, Georgia and Azerbaijan might not immediately spring to mind.

But the two have a long history steeped in tea production dating back to the nineteenth century. By the 1980s, they were supplying most of the tea consumed in the then Soviet Union.

Their once booming tea industries rapidly declined in the years following the Soviet collapse. Today, their combined production is not even 2 percent of their peak from the 1980s, as Georgian and Azerbaijani consumers have turned to less expensive, better quality imports.

In recent years, both countries – boasting ideal tea growing conditions and natural tea stock – have taken steps to revitalize their tea sectors.

With the right support, including public and private investment and the transfer of know-how, Georgian and Azerbaijani tea industries could see a revival. 

Their tea producers could carve out an interesting niche in a dynamic international tea market catering to consumers of quality organic, green, and specialty teas.

Those were among the findings shared by the FAO Investment Centre during today’s online event celebrating International Tea Day.

From field to cup

According to tea expert John Snell, “the tea bush survives for a century or more, and with care can be brought back into production, which is happening in both Georgia and Azerbaijan.”

He added that “new tea plantations have been established in both countries and some incredible leaf teas have been produced, taking us back to the age of Lao Jin Jao, whose Georgian tea won the gold medal at the Paris Expo in 1900. 

He led an online tasting during the event, describing what to look for in a cup of tea.

FAO partnered with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on tea sector studies for Georgia and Azerbaijan to inform potential investors of opportunities and risks.

The studies give a comprehensive sector overview, including consumption, production, and trade trends. They also identify potentially profitable opportunities in tea growing and making, and examine sector policies and environmental sustainability, taking into consideration climate change.

The studies, soon to be published, conclude with a set of recommendations to help both countries advance their tea industries, including raising the quality of their teas by upgrading operations in fields and factories.

Raising the profile

According to Snell, the seed-grown tea stock in both countries is robust and able to produce quality tea. The six-month dormancy delivers the right stress and strength in the tea bush, enabling the production of exceptional first and second flushes akin to India’s famous Darjeeling area.

The tea stock’s long dormancy combined with the countries’ low humidity also help prevent pests, allowing tea growers to produce organic teas more easily and worry less about pesticide residues.

Georgia, with its rich, celebrated food heritage and experience in developing geographical indications for its unique food products, could explore producing more organic and specialty teas, especially for the export market.

Azerbaijan is a nation of tea drinkers, with tea consumption rising by 50 percent since 2008. Educating the public on what is special about quality Azerbaijani teas could help satisfy the huge domestic demand.

FAO Investment Centre Director, Mohamed Manssouri  explained that the studies aim to promote responsible agricultural investment for sustainable and inclusive growth. 

“Raising tea quality while also reducing production costs could make Georgian and Azerbaijani teas more competitive at home and abroad. And it could create interesting opportunities for small-scale tea growers and enterprises to access new, more lucrative markets,” he said. 

Natalya Zhukova, Director, Head of Agribusiness from the EBRD noted the advantage both countries have in their proximity to large and discerning tea markets, like the European Union and former Soviet Union countries.

“The international tea market continues to evolve, with trends showing a thirst for different quality tea products, like oolong or white tea leaf. By improving quality and efficiency along the entire supply chain and diversifying, Georgia and Azerbaijan have a lot to offer the tea world and we stand ready to support industry growth.” 

Photo credit © John Snell