Will tea enable you to live forever?

Probably not, but Antisa Khvichava (ანტისა ხვიჩავა), the woman who celebrated her 130th birthday in Georgia (That would be საქართველო, the country located in the Caucasus Mountains, not the peach-growing state in the Southern United States where they drink sweet tea) this month, worked in the tea fields until forty-five years ago, when she retired at the age of eighty-five.

Over the rough course of many decades during which her country has seen a great deal of political turmoil and transformation, and during which she must have experienced a somewhat grueling agricultural subsistence lifestyle, she has outlasted even her official documentation. Although she does possess a Soviet-era passport which cites her birth as July 8th 1880, her birth certificate has been lost, resulting in some doubts as to the authenticity of the claim that she is truly the oldest living person today.

The woman, who lives with her 40-year-old grandson in an idyllic vine-covered country house in the mountains, retired from her job as a tea and corn picker in 1965, when she was 85, records say.

“I’ve always been healthy, and I’ve worked all my life — at home and at the farm,” said Khvichava, in a bright dress and headscarf, her withering lips rejuvenated by shiny red lipstick. Sitting in the chair and holding her cane, Khvichava spoke quietly through an interpreter since she never went to school to learn Georgian and speaks only the local language, Mingrelian.

– from an article on Yahoo.

To be fair, nothing I read about her indicated that Ms. Khvichava credited years of close contact with tea plants for her longevity. In at least one article, she suggested that it was due to imbibing vodka. (Additionally, the region she lives in is known for longevity, which undoubtedly plays a part.)

The tea industry in Georgia is an interesting one.  Most of today’s crop yield goes to Lipton and other large scale producers for export.   However, alongside the mass-export tea crops, there is also some small family-run orthodox-method specialty tea output, and the tea that it produces is well worth a taste if you can get your hands on some of it.

More information, from the description of one of Georgia’s wonderful teas, available from Nothing But Tea:

Georgia (ex USSR) has many tea growing villagers who manufacture their own tea by hand in their homes. The whole process is completely natural and performed by hand, in the typical white tea way. They pluck buds and tender tips from the bushes, wither them in a single layer over night. Next morning the leaf is hand rolled to curl it and get the fermentation going, and the tea is spread out to dry in the sun. Our roving teaman persuaded a venerable tea making lady in a village near Ozurgeti (in West Georgia) to part with a little of her tea. This unique tea is exclusive to Nothing But Tea, available nowhere else outside of Georgia and only in limited quantities.

The Georgians themselves drink tea, as do people in neighboring countries.  So some efforts are being made towards localizing sales of tea leaves grown in Georgia. This would, of course, benefit Georgian agriculture, which is still trying to recover from the 2008 conflict with Russia, which also damaged the Georgian wine industry.

For more information on agriculture and tea production in Georgia, read this article on Georgian Daily.

For some added flavor, here’s a photograph of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (სვეტიცხოვლის საკათედრო ტაძარი), a Georgian Orthodox cathedral in Mtskheta, Georgia, near the capital city of Tbilis. Its name translates into “the Living Pillar Cathedral.”

One Comment

  1. In Russia, it common knowledge that people from highlands of the Caucasus mountains, not just Georgia, live much longer compared to the average in the nearby regions. But I’ve never heard about any research attributing this to tea. Some have said it’s the clean air and good climate. Others think it’s a their diet, which includes high-quality meats and reasonable consumption of red wine. I wonder why no one has thought to include tea into the equation….