We had the good fortune to take tea in Tbilisi with the man who is surely Georgia’s No 1 expert on tea. We then found a tea room that proudly serves up his teas in town. And we managed also to find a great coffee shop linked to a book store on Tbilisi’s main avenue.
You can’t really sit down for afternoon tea at Shota Bitadze’s lovely tea house on Galaktioni Street in Tbilisi. It’s more of a retail outlet with lots of teas from China and from Shota’s own plantations in Georgia.
But engage Shota in conversation on the wonders of the tea world and the chances are he’ll invite you to sit down and sample a few of his favourites.
The walls of his tea house tell stories of their own, with photos of early Georgian tea traders (the Chinese brought tea to Georgia in 1847) mixed in with more recent pics from Shota’s own tea journeys (to India, China and beyond).
The shop is a tea lovers’ dream, with things to spot and admire on every inch of wall or surface.
And we got to taste a few of the favourites from Shota’s collection, all lovingly presented with great (gong fu) ceremony.
Shota stayed beyond his normal 6pm closing time to finish showing us his stock and have us sample some of them. We were also joined by his son, George, who looks likely to continue the family tradition and helped pass on to us the Georgian tea story (in excellent English I might add).
Of course, we bought a box. We have a good supply of teas for our journey, but could not pass up the chance to enjoy teas for a few mornings at least, knowing we have met the man who grows them and prepares them.
Next day, we found the lovely Alt Haus Tea Room, which is very close to the big bike sculpture that seems to be now a major stop-off point on Tbilisi tours.
There are more than 60 loose leaf teas on the menu here, but we had to try more of the Georgian Tea from Shota. And the black tea is good and strong enough to warrant a dash of milk, making us feel even more at home than Shota had done the previous day.
Tbilisi is really a top spot if you’re into your teas.
Alt Haus has a great feel to it, too, with a bit of a bohemian look, bright colours, interesting décor and lots of small sections to sit in. Just beware if you pop to the loo, there: also great décor, but if you struggle to cope with seeing yourself in the mirror, don’t go there, because there is one of those mirrors-both-sides set-ups that mean your reflection goes on ad infinitum…
Mari was in charge on the day of our visit; a very friendly approach and obviously proud of the quality of teas they have on offer here. A top place we’d highly recommend.
We only had time for one coffee in Tbilisi. So that had to be at Caliban Coffee, which is attached to Prosperos Books on Rustaveli Street, the main thoroughfare in Tbilisi’s centre.
There’s a real expat feel to this place, with big American-style muffins to munch on with your cappuccino and classical music playing gently as background.
With the British Council upstairs and the Canadian Consulate in the same courtyard, this place clearly has a captive customer base. But if I lived in Tbilisi, I’d also be willing to hike across town for a coffee of this standard.
They roast their own across town; it’s quite a dark roast, but an interesting blend involving Indian and Haitian beans as well as the more familiar Indonesian or Colombian.
And if you like your French Press coffee, they can do that too, so Tbilisi has something to offer coffee lovers as well as the tea community.
Talking of tea, Caliban Coffee also had loose leaf teas, though they said they import them from England. I wasn’t able to find out more, but much as I love some of the tea suppliers back home, I know if I lived in Tbilisi I’d want to drink the local brew day after day.
So our to tips for Tbilisi would be Caliban Coffee shop and the Alt Haus Tea Room, with a must-do visit to Shota Bitadze’s tea house. Right, there’s your next weekend away sorted out then…