Dream Big: Georgian organic tea producer preparing for international markets

  • Koba Shekiladze, a founder of the Velvet Tea Cooperative and a producer of Teamo tea. Photo: GRETA project

By Mariam Papidze

Economic Editor

Agenda.ge, 21 Jul 2022, Tbilisi,Georgia

Koba Shekiladze, a teacher from the village of Gezruli in the western Imereti region of Georgia, has dreamt about doing something useful for his village and creating jobs for locals. Following this dream, he decided to create a tea plantation across 22 hectares of land and cultivate flavourful organic teas. This dream came true in 2016, and now the Velvet Tea Cooperative founded by Shekiladze employs 25 locals and produces tea under the brand name Teamo, a wordplay on the Spanish term for “I love you”.

Shekiladze says the name of the tea brand was made to relate to love as it demonstrates the company’s “caring approach” to its products. He says the tea is cultivated, processed and packaged “with love” in an ecologically clean environment 690 metres above sea level, in the high-lying locations of Imereti. 

Photo: GRETA project

Everything you see here is made by me, personally. Currently, there is no other organic producer in Georgia who owns 22 hectares of land. Everyone is wondering how we are able to handle 22 hectares since everything is done manually", said the farmer. 

Photo: GRETA project

Shekiladze explains that tea leaves are picked by hand and later processed with modern equipment, which the Cooperative purchased with the help of the European Union as well as Swedish and Austrian governments through the GRETA project. The equipment includes a green tea withering machine, a black tea sorting machine, dryer, roller and packing machines and more.

Photo: GRETA project

I have never received such support from anybody else in my life, not even my father. The GRETA project made it possible for us to bolster production while maintaining high quality", Shekiladze said.

As an organic producer, Shekiladze declared the plantation a "buffer zone" where pesticide use is prohibited.

We do not use Cassidinae pesticides either. Plantations are located in highlands, the climate is dry. These conditions influence the taste and flavour of the tea. From the picking of delicate leaves to drying and packaging, at each stage the rules and requirements of organic production and certification are strictly adhered to", he said.

Photo: GRETA project

The Velvet Tea Cooperative currently offers black twisted tea, green tea and blueberry tea, but Shekiladze has new dreams now - to see Teamo tea in the international markets. 

Moreover, Shekiladze’s dreams go beyond tea. He says the area has great potential for agritourism. People could come to his plantation, spend the night, cultivate and prepare their tea.

"They will be able to hand-pick tea, process it themselves and drink it. This will be a truly wonderful experience", he said. 

Watch the video interview with Shekiladze published by the GRETA project: