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Tag: Krasnodar

Russian Tea Garden Profile: Host

Well over a year ago, I tried a green tea from a Russian tea garden that just . . . blew my mind.


Russian green tea

The garden—according to the vendor, What-Cha—was called “the Host tea estate”. I corresponded with the company owner for some time, and he informed me that he could find no information on the garden. This wasn’t much of a surprise.

Russian Tea Garden Profile: Solohaul

A few months ago – as some of you have undoubtedly seen – I received samples from What-Cha. Many of them were from Russian tea estates in Krasnodar krai, specifically the Dagomys region near Sochi City. Yeah, the place where the Winter Olympics were held two years ago. I’ve written about Russian teas rather extensively in the last couple of years, but I had yet to do a profile on one specific garden.

What-Cha’s owner, Alistair Rea, sort of nudged me to sample a couple of black teas from the so-called “Solohaul Tea Estate”. As with any tea company or garden, there was very little information available online. And unless I somehow managed to become fluent in Russian (and the Cyrillic alphabet), that wasn’t about to change anytime, soon.

Alistair, however – in his usual, resourceful way – did find an article about the garden, complete with lovely pictures . . . one of which I mooched.

Image owned by Tea-Terra.

Image owned by Tea-Terra.

Russian Green Tea Roulette

Full circle, man.


Let me explain.

About a year and a half ago, I did a write-up on Russian grown tea, specifically a black tea from the Krasnodarskiy brand. My verdict was, “Eh.” However, I didn’t disregard the Dagomys region of Krasnodar completely. According to some sources, the tea gardens in the region were stepping up their quality. Part of that was because of last year’s Winter Olympics.

Fast-forward to December of 2014, Natasha Nesic (formerly The Snooty Tea Person) informed me of an online tea company based in the U.K. called What-Cha. Among their many, eclectic wares were “collections” highlighting specific growing regions around the world – India, Nepal, Malawi, Europe (!!!), and . . . Russia.

First thing I notice were the Russian non-black tea collections. That was new. When did they start experimenting with anything but black tea?! I got in touch with the company head – Alistair Rea – to acquire some. And he dropped the biggest bombshell I ever swallowed.

His inspiration for carrying Russian grown tea was because of the blog I wrote on the subject. He even wrote about his search HERE. So, to summarize: I wrote a blog on Russian tea, which in turn inspired someone to carry said tea, and then I approached said company to acquire said tea . . . to write a blog about it.

Like I said . . .  full circle, man.

Of the samples he sent, there were six green teas to sip.

Russian roulette

They hailed from four different tea estates in the region – Solohaul, Dagomys, Matsesta, and Host. There wasn’t much information on any of them, aside from mentions on Steepster (pertaining to What-Cha). I wondered how best to dig into them. One at a time? Side-by-side? Nah . . . all at once! A veritable game of Russian green tea roulette. Six teas; one tasting session.


Krasnodar Solohaul Tea Estate Green Tea



Appearance/Aroma: The leaves were large, twisted and dark green. The fragrance they gave off was all wintergreen and forest floor – minty, slightly earthy and grassy.

Brewed: The liquor was bright yellow-gold with a faint aroma of melons, more of a likeness to a bold white tea than a green. The flavor was both buttery and fruity with a slight, mellow sweetness on the back.

Verdict: Definitely a hit. An almost-perfect green tea on delivery.


Krasnodar Premium Dagomys Tea Estate Green Tea

Dagomys Premium

Appearance/Aroma: The leaves were green and brown, rolled tightly to the likeness of twigs and stems. They smelled like straight juniper berries, in that “gin and tonic” sort of way.

Brewed: The liquor brewed light green with a very . . . uh . . . green tea aroma. It reminded me of a mid-grade Darjeeling green – slightly grassy, but not grapy. There really isn’t much to say about it other than that.

Verdict: A near-hit, chamber misfire. It was okay, but nothing memorable.


Krasnodar Large Leaf Dagomys Tea Estate Green Tea

Dagomys Large Leaf

Appearance/Aroma: Contrary to what the name implied, the leaves were smaller cut, conically rolled – very similar to a Chinese Bi Luo Chun, only a more vibrant green color. The aroma was earthy, floral, and vaguely citrus.

Brewed: The liquor brewed fairly dark. Well, by dark I mean light amber. So, dark for a green tea. The steam smelled of sage growing on a cliff side – very oolong-y. On sip, grass hit the tongue first, followed by this burly, floral note, and chased by a nice, wilderness-y finish.

Verdict: A hit. Bullet would’ve gone clean through. A very good, serviceable green.


Krasnodar ‘Since 1947’ Matsesta Tea Estate Green Tea

1947 Matsesta

Appearance/Aroma: This was a straight-up Long Jing (Dragonwell) on appearance and smell. The leaves were medium-green, plank flat, and a decent length with an alternating grassy and winy aroma.

Brewed: The liquor brewed bright, almost “radioactive sencha” green with an herbal salad-like aroma. There was a spiciness to the smell that reminded me a little of sage or oregano. On taste, it reminded me of a Chunmee – a lower-grade Chinese green. Not un-drinkable but definitely far too grassy for my palate.

Verdict: Empty chamber. Way too grassy a green.


Krasnodar ‘VIP’ Matsesta Tea Esate Green Tea

Matsesta VIP

Appearance/Aroma: The leaves were very small, likely given a BOP (broken orange pekoe) cut, but gave off an aroma of sweetened nuts and barley powder.

Brewed: The liquor brewed an even, medium green with a strange scent of sunflower seeds. I wasn’t expecting that. On taste . . . oh my, yum. Straight almond awesomeness. It ended with a bit of a grassy finish, but it was still lathered in nutty goodness. So nuts! (Badam-bum.)

Verdict: Boom. Headshot. Straight between the eyes. A very satisfying green tea.


Host Estate Green Tea


Appearance/Aroma: These were the wildest looking of all the Russian green teas, like they were plucked from feral trees or something. Sure they looked picked and rolled, but there seemed something natural about the process. The aroma they gave off was equally “wild” – herbaceous and floral, almost like pre-processed pu-erh maocha.

Brewed: The liquor was a vibrant, lively green with a spry, fruity aroma. The taste just about kicked my head back with “WOW!” I couldn’t tell you what fruit or melon the taste was indicative of, but I was floored by it. It was like a Long Jing paired off with a biodynamic Indian green and came back with a halo-adorned offspring. Christ on a unicycle, this was perfect!

Verdict: I’m dead. Turn me over. I’m done. So wonderful.

In summary, if this had been an actual game of Russian roulette, four chambers would’ve been loaded, two bullets would’ve missed, two would’ve grazed and/or wounded me . . . and I would’ve died twice. A morbid metaphor to end on, but totally applicable.

The clear winner was the Host tea estate. Whatever they’re doing, they can keep on doing it. From what I witnessed, they were also experimenting with yellow tea and oolong tea styles. Good on ‘em. All in all, happy with the results. Russian tea has come a long way in such a short time.

Roulette 2

Russian Tea Finds You

I can’t remember when this quest began, but it all started with a random Google search. It was probably in the Fall of 2010, and I ran across an article about Russian tea. What astounded me was that there was mention of Soviet-run tea plantations. That immediately got me digging.

Russia has a long-standing love affair with tea. The country’s rampant consumption of the brew almost rivals Engand, Ireland and Iran combined. I don’t have exact figures; the Russians drank them all. To cater to the demand, government-run plantations were set up in the Dagomys region, near Sochi City, in the Russian krai (federal subject) of Krasnodar. Often considered a tourist spot for the rich, the climate was near-ideal for tea growing – Caucasian sub-tropical.

The tea coming out of the region was dubbed Krasnodarskiy or “Krasnodar Tea”, for short. Or at the very least, that was the first “successful” brand.  For the life of me,  I couldn’t find the stuff anywhere. I found tea plants from the same cultivar from the region. (Seriously, any tea plant you can buy in the U.S. is probably a Sochi cultivar.) But finding the actual, Russian-grown stuff stateside was next to impossible.

I even hit up Russian delis to find out more. Every one of them gave me the same answer, “Oh, you don’t want that tea. Terrible tea. Russians only drink Ceylon.” Well, that was odd.

It was true, though. Russians did have a particular lean toward Sri Lankan-grown teas. I usually assumed all Ceylons were floral – like those from Nuwara Eliya – but it turns out the lower-altitude stuff was actually rather robust. Perfect for the Russian palate.

Another bit of knowledge that didn’t help my quest was hearing that tea production in Dagomys fell into neglect and disrepair after perestroika. Some independent gardens were getting back on their feet, but none were exporting in large quantities. As such, I considered it a futile quest.

Until Tea Trade Jackie happened upon a video about tea production, and how things were picking back up. The reason: The impending Winter Olympics in Sochi City. Yes, yes…I’m well aware of the controversy surrounding that at the moment – not even gonna begin to touch that subject. I was merely intrigued that interest in Russian-grown tea was back on the rise.

So, I put out my feelers again, pining for any leads on Krasnodarskiy. And I turned up…nothing. Flat nothing. Even after putting it at the top of my Tea WANT! List, there were no beads on the brew. I was back to square one.

Until a couple of years later, when I was in Josh “J-TEA” Chamberlain’s Eugene-based tea shop.

As I was downing mass quantities of his aged Baozhong, he asked me, “Hey, have you had any Russian-grown tea?”

My head snapped up, “No, why?”

“Oh, I have some,” he said as an afterthought. “It’s not very good.”

My jaw dropped. In three years of searching, I hadn’t found Russian-grown tea. In three minutes at a teashop, Russian tea found me. Yakov Smirnoff was probably pointing at me. Laughing inwardly.

Josh kindly gave me some to play around with. A few weeks later, I dug in.

The leaves looked like something in between fannings and broken orange pekoe. They were still noticeably…uh…leaf-like, but they were definitely cut small. There were some tippy pieces in the brown fray, as well as some red-tipped ones. On the nose, it smelled like a dusty black tea – similar to a low-altitude Ceylon…in a teabag. Actually, the aroma reminded me of a Shizuoakan kocha (Japanese black tea), which often had a similar leaf-cut.

I wasn’t sure how exactly I should handle this. So, I went with a typical black tea approach (for me) – 1 tsp. in a 6oz. steeper cup with boiled water for three minutes. I wasn’t expecting hearty nuance, but I didn’t want to scald it, either.

The liquor brewed to a deep copper – like, Assam deep – with a very astringent aroma. It smelled like a burly black tea through-and-through, without much in the way of subtlety. All tannins, no temptation. On taste, the first sensation I got was bitterness, followed by a dry underpinning , and finally a malty character peaked through the top note and finish. This was definitely a burly, barrel-chested Russian breakfast of a tea.

After trying it, I can safely say it’s not the worst black tea I’ve had. Nowhere near the best, but not the worst. It’s very middling in its approached. I think cutting the leaves to just shy of BOP standard probably did the final product an injustice, depriving it of some of its natural Caucasian flavor. (Mountains! Caucasian mountains!) A whole leaf approach would’ve given it a fighting chance against other teas from the region – such as the Georgians I’ve tried. All in all, not bad.

Although, next time…I’m doing it out of a samovar.

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