At the Gemba mountain, the one in the Carpathian Ruthenia, in the 2013, there appeared a place which was attracting travelers. The locals couldn’t get the secret of the Chayovnya’s (tea house) popularity, till now there are no publications in the media, no pictures from the constructions, in here none cares about the advertisement and getting new customers, they know there are people who will wander through the snowfalls or the thundershower to get to Cahyovnya or will accidentally find a place of homey atmosphere in the mountain peak.
The year 1949. The Soviet Union scientists under the order of Joseph Stalin are working to explore the perfect conditions to grow the South plants on the North, and the plants from the North in the South. At Zakarpattia, the well-known academician, Victor Sochava heads project of growing citrus, tea plants and to the eucalyptus. From all of the above, only tea is accommodated to grow. Tea plantations on the Red Mountain, the one that is close to Mukachevo took 50 hectares, there are plans to grow the area to 1000 hectares, all in all, in here people start to grow wine.
The only tea plantation in Ukraine is endangered now. If in 60th of past century here on slopes there were collected up to 1300 kg of tea leaves from a hectare, now just twice on a year people barely collect a half-kilogram. This area was called the only north plantation of the black tea in the world but, when tea-plants began to grow in England, Scotland and Germany, the status of Zakarpattia plantation went down, that’s the saying of the tourist-information center of Mukachevo.
Our time. The common tourists advise those, who are only planning a holiday. Zakarpattia. The sightseeing list includes a Shypit waterfall, a festival named after the waterfall, a ropeway in Pylyptci in Volovets and the tea house “Suria”, there is a saying that the owners of the place are special as they did not open the common Kolyba (bar).
– There are no shop chocolates, well-known alcohols, and the chemical beer nuts. They are not serving schnitzels or pelmeni, the place is vegetarian. Instead of banosh and chanachy- pancakes, cookies and hot beverages. So tasty ones! Sbiten, masala tea. Milk and cheese are delivered from Pylypec. Berries and mushrooms are being collected in the woods. In Chayovnia, there is a smell of firewoods, a stove is warming up guests… But the main treasure of this place is landscape you can see from a window.
Here there is Julia Omelchenko. She is just a child. Her granny is collecting tea, she is eagerly making the tea bags to help her grandmother. The few years will pass and she would ask herself: “What would you like to do?” and the only answer would be creating a place which has this marvelous atmosphere.
For a long time, Julia is going to ethnic festivals with her “wondering” Chayovnia, she even has got her theater buffet at the “Dach” theater. Her tea is a unique addition to each of the big events or “Dach’s” theatrical place. She is looking for more and more ways to show her childhood tea love to the world.
Being a grown-up, Julia is coming to the mountains, as every tourist, to have a rest and to breeze the fresh mountain air. Standing on the to of the hill, admiring the view, she is drinking tea, just purchased from the locals. Plastic cup, tea bag, in this moment she comes up with an idea: what if in the place she is standing at now to built a place where one could drink tea not from a plastic cup but from some cool dishes, to have all of the taste of these herbs or berries tea which grows under your feet, not an import one. Just after a little deal of time, Julia’s dream comes true and the plastic cup transforms into a successful project with natural tea, beautiful dishes, and wonderful atmosphere.
The time Julia decided to create Chayovnia, she asked 2 friends of her to join.
– I told them I had an idea. I didn’t know how it would last or end. Are you in with me? They answered, yes, we are ready. I thought they were joking. In the morning I went to find the landlords. I rented the place and we begun it.
We planned the opening on the 1st of January 2014, just a month was left to finish the constructions. It was very cold, dead-hard and very interesting.
– When the boys were coming back home, they were bringing the videos from the mountains, how it looked, how it was happening, it looked like a war. A snowfall. People, covered, trying to pass the woods to one another the wind was so hard, the nails were torn away, the boards were pulled out and carried away. It was so hard. Plus, we had tense relations with the administration of the ropeway. Not all of the times they let us in, sometimes we climbed the mountain on our own. I was carrying my son, Mitro to climb the hill and asked myself: what was happening, why did I go there. I understood I did want to do it. I had a lot of fun out of it.
31 of December the constructions had been over, but the surprises were not:
– 31 of December we hardly had found the car in the village to pick the tools on the hill. I entered the building thinking: oh God, What would be next? Loads of tools, dishes, a lot of construction trashes. Cold, the New Year’s Eve is here. We started to put everything on the shelves. Till the midnight, the look was so fairytale-ish, I didn’t have a word. I had a feeling I knew him forever. But he had just showed himself. We stood close to the window. Down in Pylyptsi there were fireworks, we were just standing and looking at the stars. I understood all of the efforts were worth this New Year’s night. In this wonderful mood we went to sleep. We had some so-called constructed place to sleep. We woke up the first of January by tourists, the loads of tourists were trying to come in. It was something. We had to get used to the stove which had never been fired. It was so capricious. When there were groups of tourists and you didn’t even know where you have placed all of the staff.
– All was cooked with firewoods. Dima, the stove mad was given a very specific task, he was even “not able to” do the tasks. But he had found the vibe. He got confused with the task, to have there the capacity. There would be sand to make coffee. Separately, there was a fireplace. Just to make the place beautiful. To warm the place. There was a dish drying place. There were a lot of technical details and he did it. The only thing he hadn’t done was a deck-chair. I wanted to sleep on the stove.
By the way, the first sand for coffee Julia had brought from Georgia, right in her backpack. Now she is making fun of the situation at the customs where she had to explain why she was handling some sand in her bag, it was a black, magnetic sand, all of the devices were stuck close to it. Now, coffee for the visitors is made of 2 kinds of sand: one from Georgia, another one from Gangu. It mixed into black and white mixture.
After the New Year’s opening, the crowds of tourists have calmed down, the Chayovnia’s team hasn’t been going down the hill a week- they were putting the right processes, logical working ideas. The most pleasant moment, Julia said, was the time locals, strangers started offering their help.
– During this 3 years, we had a lot of people, but also a lot of people who work all the time. From time to time they are changing each other. They are fantastic people. I don’t know how to motivate one if suddenly something unpredictable happens and she/he is deciding on his own how to deal with it and what’s best for the peak. Its needed there. Or how to motivate one who has to go through the snow to get some water. When there is such a snow that is bending you down, when you are getting ready: one, two, three, and you are coming out. You are opening the doors and you are pushed to the wall. Winds are very hard in December. This time, one is going to bring some water. The water is in the source. The source is lower than our Chayovnia is located. We tried to let the water go to us but we didn’t manage to. We do this every day. Minimum 100 or 200 liters per day, sometimes more. It’s a tough work. The trays are not every time helpful.Especially, when it’s snowing. You have to go half in snow, step by step.
Julia explains how the tea house is changing, together with it’s people are. The most interesting fact there is, Chayovnia forced everybody to cheer up and to overthink their own capabilities of the local businessman.
– When we came in here, the locals made us “Lipton” and were selling some chips and chocolate. When we were coming to them, they were treating us like enemies, because we arrived from outside. They tried to scan us, to read. We were not something they expected us to be. The next day they were trying to tell the tourists some awful staff about us. But we were lucky, these bad things weren’t sticking to us because we were not doing anything bad. We were not angry at them. I was often buying something for them. I tried to have some communications. I told them that burning plastic is not the must do thing. But with everyone you have to talk their own language, the language of their authorities. That’s why I told them, if you have Jesus icon on your wall, do not burn plastic.
Now no one is surprised to get cold on a ropeway, a warm, cozy house where you will get feed and get some drinks is waiting for you. But there was a time when the legendary Chayovnia had to fight for “the place under the sun”.
– An interesting moment, at the beginning, in the whortleberry season, people were selling it in small cups some whortleberry and cowberry. When a tourist is coming, you have to give him the best, and who would want berries, they thought.It has to be at least “Lipton”, something normal. For them, our work was like trading hay and getting money for nothing. Now, when you are coming closer to them you could find in the price list: tea with cowberry, tea with a strawberry, tea with raspberry, tea with a blackberry, or the one with a syrup. Tincture: this and that. They started to bake pies. And it’s great, they are competitors. I remember, they had a whortleberry pie. I ate it, next day I came again, there wasn’t any. I asked where the pie was. They said they had a few tourists, they were not baking pies then. But now, they are baking at least 5 tastes of then, any taste you want. I think it’s a great lesson, they were taking us as an example, they started buying containers, thermoses, they started using blankets. Before it was a wooden table, that’s it. Now they try to make it beautiful.
The tea house is a very good business project, Julia is talking about it as of something spiritual: “When I’m coming to the tea house, I see the group of tourists which has to visit 10 more places with a guide who reminds them of time. Then, he for a second has a cup of tea or just comes to the window and calms down, totally calms down, this moment I see the meeting has taken place. I understand that’s it. That’s the thing that inspires me, that’s what we are aiming at.”
At the beginning borshch was cooked in here, we made tinctures, vermouth, and hot wine. With time we have given up on meat soon on alcohol as well. “The locals were shocked several months in the row”. They tried to get the secret of success. A great deal of time they couldn’t believe we could refuse this gold-mine, they were coming, again and again, trying to check, they were even sending the spies.
Julia is saying that Pylypets for her is still not fully explored and the place is still mysterious.
People got used to making money with not putting much effort on it. The products for Chayovnia are bought in Mukachevo or Mizhhirya because in Pylyptsi its hard to make a deal with locals: “The time you are trying to fix a deal of the smallest contract people are changing a price, time or even refuse to bring something at all, what you explore after you call the dealer yourself – it’s because it’s a “Peter’s-The Third- The Honoured-Ivan” or “We haven’t strained cheese because our children were coming or leaving”. The words do not matter, “today”- means “these days”, “tomorrow” – ”several weeks”, and “sometimes”- most likely is never.”
People do not understand, that cooperation, mutual work is paying of. In villages often do not care about the next day, not planning or trying to find some new source of income.
– There was a story. I offered the milk supplier to deliver it to us everyday with the ropeway and call us on the peak informing of the milk rope-seat number. I didn’t ask for the discount as a regular customer, even offered him some extra money for every delivery. He said to me: “I have Life, you Kyivstar, it’s expensive to call you!” I promised to cover the phone expenses but it was too complicated. After my first try, they told me: “You take it or we will feed our pigs with it” , in the Christmas time, the brynza suppliers had suddenly brought me an invoice, 3 times more expensive than it had to be, saying it’s a Holiday price.
Unfortunately, after communicating with locals in Pylyptsi, you would have an impression Chayovnia is not treated well in here because outsiders have come to make money. Maybe just a few people from Pylypets would understand that such places as Chayovnia, they are a magnet to tourist crowds, they come here to sit with the cup of tea or coffee close to “that window” and on their way, they would definitely come to traditional kolyba to have some varenyky and borshch. The history of this tea house is being made every day, its existence is surprising as well as its guests.
– It was February, a group of people has landed from the ropeway, they were trying to do something first, they have a flag, all in all, they came in and asked if they could conduct a church service in there. Of course, do it I’m standing in front of the bar counter, observing the film, 2 men, they are taking of their hoodies, hats, their ski jackets and put on their special cloths, get their church incense and Service begins. Service simply begins!
– It was an Orthodox Christian organization, which have children and grown ups to have some church talks outdoors, somewhere in the mountains. It was incredible. They are first reading some prayers, the priest is going around with incense, the tourists are coming by, they are confused. They see some house inside it looks completely different as from the outside. Its shocking even during the good weather conditions. The change occurs, you are entering some other world from the freezing winter. This time they see priests, the praying priests. They couldn’t get if they are in the church, but the bar counter, it gets more and more crowded. The priests are talking about us, about time consuming and some other philosophical things. He told something like there is no time, but we have to do everything on time. We couldn’t get used to a lot of things, sometimes we were preparing some drinks and rope-way was not working any longer. They were our first days. After this Service, when they left, I told the boys, the priest was talking about us. Next day I went to meet my mother in Volovets, on the railway, where I wanted to cross the road, I found a bag. I lifted it, wanted to get rid of it first, then opened, and there it was, a new clock.
The clock was packed, with the logo on it. A corporate watch. I think I saw the logo somewhere, oh, this is the logo of that Christian organization. They were taking a train and simply lost this clock. I found it, it hands in Chayovnia now.
– There was a beautiful summer morning. We are just making the preparations. The group of people is coming and asking to come inside. They say, it’s windy in here, we are the choir, can we sing for you? On the hill, in front of me, there are 40 people. They started to sing. There are tears. This beautiful moment. In here there so many touchy moments.
– Here is the interesting story. It was winter in here, ropeway wasn’t working, all the time we had someone in there, no mattered if it worked or not, people could go down the hill, this place had often saved one’s life when it was cold, or night someone got lostніч наприклад. In the evening someone knocked, 7 guys were entering the room, disoriented, they were not even speaking. They were so cold, we gave them tea. I looked, they had some interesting orange cases, I didn’t know why maybe because of the orange bags I decided to ask if they knew about the hill heights. Two guys looked at each other and started opening the bags, having some devices, B-B-C took place. They are scientists. They were checking the heights of the mountain in kilometers. I asked and got the answer in millimeters 1 km 164 m 50 cm 5 mm.We wrote the digits down, we have them written. I mean we haven’t come up with it, we got the answer, this real one.
Now, when the Chayovnia’s processes are more the less adjusted, Julia wants to get to the new level.
– I wanna make the process perfect, at all stages. They are collecting, processing, distributions. Now I’m working at the tea fermentation, pressing, drying. I’m trying to make it better. I also am working on a brand. It’s a Birthday process. Generally, I would love to make a factory, the Sri-Lanka’s alike, with a perfect rooms where you can see all of the processes, how it’s made, packed where the person could join the process, blending tea overseeing every detail. The place where there were real people who are doing this, there was an idea to automate this process, at least a herb blending one, then I understood, they are completely different categories- a mechanical one and by hand one.That’s why girls are hand-grinding it, to the fermenting process. Before starting the process, one has to remember to rumple the leaves, mix it and rumple, overseeing how it’s changing. All these is a hand work. It would be interesting for me to be in such a location where one could try different types of tea, buy some and join the process to get to know more.
Julia is not looking for all the recipes on purpose, they are coming their way to Julia. This happened to Ivan-chai, the woman explored the recipe on the second year on a hill, the same was with sbiten.
– I was in Saint Petersburg. For the first time in my life, I tried sbiten. I was amused. I liked the tastes combination so much. Especially, the sour part and something sweet and honey. When I came back to Ukraine, I started finding out more about this drink. I decided to give it a new life.
You don't have to think about business. You just live the process…
Julia says, the success more the less depends on how you build it, that’s why working in the big city where there are plenty of people and good tech background- it’s not a key of success.
– I think now there is a time when you have to do the business on the crossroad, close to the road, in the public places. Together with communication, everything has changed, it doesn’t matter where you are. If you do the right thing, you don’t have to sell it. You don’t have to think of business at all. You are just living it, living the process, having a fun of it, and every day, the minor things, for instance, purchase of the new barrel, or inventions that might be funny for one. But this brings you the childhood happiness, and you have to do it. That’s the way I’ve chosen. And I’m fully on it, I don’t think any directions exist.
Borzhav ridge is heading the lists of the cheap active holidays in Ukraine, it is the easiest place to start climbing the Carpathians, which is generously dotted with meadows, blueberries and crocuses, Transcarpathian villages which are stretched at the foot have its town charm, their local nature and measured the pace of life are gathering thousands and thousands of travelers in here. In spite of this, Borzhav ridge is not willing to be changed to the “touristic place”.
It is a specific place, Julia says, a lot of projects have been made for it but all of them are just on paper for now. Maybe, they were not the right people, or maybe the place itself doesn’t let it happen. “It is miracle, a wild, independent one. I feel that I’m a guest in here calling the space. I asked it first if I could be in here if I could act. Then I started looking for the real landowners, the ones who are in our time”.
A fragile Julia together with a group of the dreamers is planning to bring the traditions which were killed by collectivization, plastic, neglect and despair back. Bring them back in a new cover, new meaning. One small tea house on the hill have changed the travelers’ and locals’ impression of the far far away place with no water and light, they know now it could be a dream place of warm tea traditions.