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German/Russian/Nat A German company is investing (m) millions of dollars to revive the ailing Georgian tea industry. This former Soviet republic used to be one of the main tea suppliers throughout the U-S-S-R. But since the break up of the Soviet Union, the industry has been in decline. Tea was first introduced to Georgia by the Russian czars at the beginning of the century. The subtropical climate and the fertile ground in western Georgia was ideal for establishing estates - like this one at Zugdid. During Soviet times, the plantations were expanded and by the 1970s growers were eager to not only fulfil but also exceed their quotas for the five year plans. It paved the way for the introduction of new tea gathering machines, doing away with hand pickers who could select the finest and youngest tea leaves on the tips of bushes. Mechanisation boosted production. By the end of the 1980s, Georgia was selling 150-thousand tonnes of refined tea - particularly to the great tea-drinking nation of Russia. But quantity did not mean quality. The big clumsy machines harvested both good and bad leaves - as well as twigs, earth and stones. Two years ago, however, everything changed when the German tea company Martin Bauer decided to take over 22 plantations in Georgia. Their first move was to reject Soviet-style harvesting in favour of old fashioned hand-picking. Last year, they produced a mere four-thousand tonnes of tea - but the decision was to jettison quantity in favour of boosting quality. SOUNDBITE: (in English) "To achieve good quality of tea, it's necessary to change the approach to the tea plantation and the process of tea plucking. In Soviet times, the most quantities were plucked by machines, and it gave us very bad quality. Now we changed this approach and we're going to produce more, much more by hand plucking." SUPER CAPTION: David Khobelava, deputy director of Martin Bauer - Georgia Many tea estates fell into ruin following the break-up of the Soviet Union and the ensuing civil war in Georgia. Their decline was not helped by the loss of once captive markets like Russia, which were now free to buy more exotic and flavourful tea from countries like India. Nevertheless, Martin Bauer decided to invest 15 (m) million (US) dollars in upgrading the country's ageing Soviet-era tea plants. It's aim: to win back the lucrative 300 (m) million (US) dollar Russian market. One obstacle is Georgian tea's poor reputation, but the company has got around this by leaving out the tea's country of origin on its packaging. Having established the label as a medium to high quality brand in the market, Martin Bauer company officials say it's now time to go public. SOUNDBITE: (German) "In the beginning, before we went on the market, we thought the reputation of Georgian tea in the '70s and '80s was not so good. But now that we see that the interest in Georgian tea exists, and there is nostalgia for the past, we think we can go into the market with Georgian packing." SUPER CAPTION: Oliver Zimmerman, director of Martin Bauer - Georgia Even Georgians have been reluctant to buy their home-grown tea. However Martin Bauer has done such a good job at improving the quality that shoppers think the brand is a foreign one. SOUNDBITE: (in Russian) "You know, recently, I did not like home grown tea at all. It did not have an aroma, it did not even taste like tea. I think that's why we're choosing imported brands." SUPER CAPTION: Nata Tskhivitava, shopper Martin Bauer's tasters are on constant watch over the quality of their teas. With that kind of diligence, it may just be a matter of time before the company's Georgian brew is considered among the finest teas in the world. You can license this story through AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/metadata/youtube/70f75e345edd7990ae6ee0664383ba9e Find out more about AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/HowWeWork