Transform Your Life - Interview with Kristiina Mehik

Kristiina Mehik is a city white collar turned tea farmer. For her, it is not only a career move but a 180 degree lifestyle change.  She slows down and listens to the rhythms to her needs, inner voice and nature. One thing we learnt the most from her is - we don't always need to have a plan in place. When we stop planning for everything, we start to listen to our heart and live it to the fullest.

Why do you want to make this change and how did you do it?

It all started at the beginning of 2017, we were all actually working in one place and everything was good and we were on top of our careers, but somehow, we all felt we wanted to do something different and to be closer to nature. We wanted to see real, tangible results from our work, we wanted to create a product that would bring value to ourselves and our customers. We were previously in the passenger transport industry, which is very corporate and with intense competition. At some point we got tired of the corporate games and it felt too restricting.  Our story didn’t start with tea, because in Estonia, tea doesn't grow and the tea drinking culture is also not very strong. We weren’t even very big tea drinkers ourselves at that time. My partner and I always dreamt of having a vineyard or an olive farm, but we ended up with tea instead 😊 

When we got into researching about tea, we remembered that Georgian tea was the only tea that was drunk in our country during the Soviet Union times. We started looking into it and found out that the whole industry had collapsed. It was really intriguing and upsetting at the same time to learn how big the industry once was and to see now all the abandoned tea plantations. That was the very first milestone for us, we started to dig deeper and look into how we could play our part in saving the Georgian tea. 

Are you one family or just like-minded people working together?

We were all just co-workers before this journey, but when we moved to Georgia, we became close friends. I would say it's kind of like a family, because doing a completely new thing in a foreign country needs to have a very strong team. Within the group, there are 2 families, but together we formed a community. 

What is good and what are the challenges with running a business with your best friends? 

Because we have worked together before so that we have the same understanding of team work. We are really honest with each other. If something is bothering us, we will just say it. We can have those really difficult honest conversations. I guess in most cases, it wouldn't work but because we know we need to have those hard talks to be a stronger team and it is nothing personal. Through these difficult conversations, we manage to build and grow the business but also get closer to each other. 

What is hugely beneficial for us is that we have worked together before, so we understand each other’s working styles and personalities. 

How do you balance the traditions of tea while bringing in the modern products and how do you tell the story? 

We don't have a strong tea culture in Estonia and we also hadn’t seen how tea is produced before, so everything was new to us. While we do honour the traditions of tea, they don’t limit us. Things like “this is not the way it is done” are not limiting us, we experiment and see what brings out the best Georgian tea. For example, oolong has never been grown in Georgia, but we felt that if we can make very good oolongs here, the tradition of making mostly black tea shouldn’t stop us. 

Telling the story of Georgian tea is very important for us. When we started this journey, we understood what a hidden gem the tea industry is. For the consumer, it is difficult to really know where their tea comes from. Therefore, we decided to take a different approach. We sell directly to our customers mostly and whenever we work with resellers, the number one prerequisite is that the story of Georgian tea needs to be told . 

We also try to bring in a modern look with the products, for example in the way we name our tea. We believe it is cool to have unconventional names, but at the same time it is not a marketing thing. It’s more about how we connect to the tea. So, for instance, berry breeze, while tasting it, we felt the aroma of raspberries and that’s why it got its name. 

Which tea does represent Renegade? 

All our plantations have been seed-grown. We don't have areas with a specific cultivar or variety as the seeds have mixed over the years and all the different tea bushes are mixed together.  The production is more challenging because the leaves are different and act differently in the factory. But at the same time, this is what gives the unique taste. For example, black tea is really special in Georgia, as the profile is different from other places. It's sweet, fruity and mellow, with no sharp edges. 

Though, we don’t focus only on producing black tea. Our approach is a bit different from most tea farms in Georgia. We produce different kinds of teas, black, green, oolong, and we test it out, while most other farms produce only one kind of black tea. We even test a bit with some local herbs. 

Are you a heavy tea drinker and what is your favourite tea? 

Before starting this journey, I was a casual tea drinker and I think I was far from drinking actual good loose-leaf tea. Now I drink quite a lot, even a bit too much during the season when we need to taste all the tea 😊  My favourite tea depends on the mood I am in or what the weather is like, so I have many different favourites. In the winter, I normally drink black tea, while in the summer, I drink more white and green tea. At the moment I have some white tea as the sun is shining. My all time favourite probably is still our oolong tea called Lazy Morning, as this was the tea that introduced oolong tea for me. 

What does tea give you? 

Tea is a balancing factor, during the working day I take regular tea breaks which helps me to calm down so it's a ritual for me to recharge. It also brings people together, whenever there are guests, we also take a moment to share tea. 

How has the pandemic affected your business or life? How did you respond to it?

The pandemic was interesting for us. Hannes and I were planning to visit Georgia for just 10 days, a quick visit before the season starts. But instead, Europe went into lockdown and we had to stay there for 5 months without the rest of our team. So instead of 7 of us, it was just the two of us for most of the season. It was challenging. We were in lockdown when the season started. Bushes were growing but we couldn't get to the fields to harvest them. When the lockdown ended, we managed to start with the work, but then a curfew was implemented. The curfew started at 9PM which meant that the whole production had to be planned by minutes so we would get home by nine. While it was stressful at first, we realised at some point that there was nothing we could do about it and we were not able to do the work of 7 people, but we can give our best to get through the season.  Somehow, we managed to harvest, produce and package everything as planned. The tea bushes perhaps didn't get as much attention that we would have liked to give, so the plantation suffered a little bit, but all in all, we managed to do it. 

Do you think you will bring this mindset to your life after the pandemic? 

I think living in Georgia has offered these lessons as well. Estonians have quite a strict work culture, everything is always planned thoroughly and on time. We are quite demanding on ourselves. But in Georgia, they live more in the moment, everything is not so rushed and intense. The working culture is completely different and our carefully curated plans didn’t work at all there. So, during those 3 years, I have learnt to let go of planning too much and to enjoy more of the moment. Being without our team during the pandemic taught us the same thing, we can only do our best and nothing more. There is no point to freak out if the plans don’t work out, life will always find a way. 

I believe that Georgia in general has made me more relaxed and so has tea. Tea has grounded me, we can't control how the bushes grow or the weather or humidity, so we just have to adapt and accept. Winter for us is not necessarily a holiday, as there is still work to do, but I have learnt to be less stressed. I won't lose myself in the virtual world that much anymore. Especially this winter, I have learnt to take those moments to drink tea and go outside. 

Can you tell me about your daily routine? 

It's very different between the summer and the winter. In the summer, we are having 12 - 14 hours working days while we take it easier during the winter. Because it goes dark very early in Estonia during winter, I actually change my sleeping according to that and I don't force myself to wake up at 6 am anymore. The morning routine is the most important for me. I don't like to take my tea or coffee and sit behind a computer. I prefer  a slow morning. I usually drink water and start with yoga or stretching.  In the summer I get a lot of fresh air as I am always out on the plantations, so in the winter, during lunch times I always take at least an hour to be outside and breathe in the fresh air. I do still like to plan my days but I am more flexible with those plans. For me, it’s about finding the balance, not going into extremes in anything.

What does serenity mean to you?

For me, serenity is finding the balance  - summer is fast paced and winter is slower. Finding balance during the day as well, it's about finding the small things that give you the balance. For every person, it is different. It might be tea that grounds you or it might be rock music. All versions are ok 😊

What activities do you do to regenerate or relax? 

Nature in general grounds me. I am from an island and lived by the season and running water grounds me a lot. It could be a river or a small creek. During stressful times, I also love to drink a cup of tea to switch off from the outside and look inside myself. 

Could you please give three takeaways to our readers who would like to pursue serene living?

It's Important to test what grounds you and it doesn't have to be meditation or yoga. It can be anything, just one thing that makes you calmer. And be patient in finding and implementing it. It doesn't happen in a day. It's a journey and integrates into your life step by step. 

Be persistent. Taking walks as my daily ritual was a journey for me. In the beginning, I didn't feel like walking everyday but I still went. Now it just becomes part of my routine.

You have to listen to your inner voice, if you don't feel right, then you have to change it. It will take some courage to make the change but I can guarantee that at the end it's worth it and I would encourage everyone to really look into yourself to see if you are happy at where you are currently in your life or if you need to make some changes. 

Get more inspiration from Kristiina.

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