Saturday, December 11, 2004

Letter 20: Hazarapet the Thyme Entrepreneur - draft needs editing

December 2004
Hazarapet Nazaryan is Mosso Nazaryan’s elder brother and the family’s patriarch.
I met Mosso in 2003 when I had given-up on getting proper water pressure in the castle. Arsen from Vayk said he’d take me to the water authority’s boss and we took a taxi there. The boss was not there, but his brother Mosso was there. After hearing my plea, he said come with me, let’s go see what we can do. We rode in his 4x4 russian vehicle and drove up to the castle. On the way he stopped in some employees’ houses, the much feared water baron for my part of town and told him he was going to get me water. Sure enough, he opened a few water holes, opened and shut a few large taps and when we got to the castle, I had water. Mosso was simply concerned that a diasporan ‘guest’ in Yeghegnadzoe had no water.
He accepted no gift, hardly a drink for celebration. Samson later confirmed that he had been in a heated discussion with his brother (Hazarapet, the boss) and that got him nowhere.
This time Mosso came to see me with a cousin. He wanted me to try a new natural, wild mountain thyme tea. He had an attractive box of tea bags and Sheila boiled some water and served the tea. It had a powerful aroma that filled our house. We were very pleased to learn that they had recently started packaging and commercializing this tea for sale in Armenia and they wanted to ask for our help to market it abroad.
Needless to say we were delighted that such a high quality product was produced in our mountains, how could we turn down such a suggestion? We asked to see the ‘factory’.
Mosso said he would arrange a meeting with his brother to visit the factory. A week later we were driven to the Water authority’s office and Sheila and I were introduced to Hazarapet. He was sitting in his office and received us with his wide gold covered teeth smile. He was so kind to us, yet so authoritarian towards others, including his own younger brother, Mosso. We spent a good half hour in his office where we learned of the family’s involvement in Thyme tea production in Soviet times. This was the story of entrepreneurial people, doers, risk-takers who organized people into collecting the wild thyme, devised their own tea-bag making machine and managed to package it and market it, during Perestroika.
We learned that The tea is made from wild thyme which grows in the mountains of Armenia at an altitude of 1000 TO 2500 meters. They call their tea "Noravanqui Shountch" which translates as Breath of Noravank -- Noravank is an ancient monastery located in the mountains in the surrounding area. Noravanqui Shountch is collected at altitudes above 1600 meters in areas where there is no conventional agriculture, just some small scale beekeeping.

What further makes the difference in aroma between BC thyme and Armenia's thyme is the wild species native to the high mountains of Armenia, sunshine, pluviometry, soil and air-purity. This region of Armenia receives less than 300 millimeters of rain annually, sun intensity reaches its paroxysm immediately after the snow melts till almost just before the summer solstice when the thyme is harvested. The location is far from any human habitat or polluting industries.

The thyme is harvested in late spring by cutting the stems (not by uprooting them, thus preserving the soils as well as ensuring there will always be a harvest). The harvest is then sun-dried in glass houses which are also high up in the mountains, 1400 meters altitude, for a period of four weeks. Leaves are individually separated by hand, then, the dry leaves (not the stems) are pulverized and the tea is packaged in a small building which is next to the drying houses, using specialized porous paper to make double pouches and then packed into packages of 30 tea bags in a small and elegant cardboard box which is wrapped in cellophane to preserve freshness. The drying and packing operation is located about two kilometers from a paved road which is about two hours from Yerevan where an international airport is located.

The aroma is distinct, and because of the concentration of leaves vs. stems, is overwhelming.