Almost every country has a signature drink that can be divided into one of two categories. First, it can be smooth and pleasing to the palate, appealing to the senses and tasting delicious. Second, it can take your breath away, leaving you gasping for air and your esophagus feeling like it’s been burned by a flame-thrower. The latter concoctions are meant to be drained in one go, giving the face a rosy glow, and putting a slight grimace on the face of the drinker.
These fiery liquids are known under many different names. In Italy it’s called grappa. In the United States of America it’s moonshine. In South Africa it’s mampoer or witblits (lit. white lightning), depending on the ingredients. And in Georgia this fiery water is tchatcha.
Oh, tchatcha, the downfall of everyone who comes to Georgia thinking they can hold their liquor. If I had a lari every time someone said, “I’m (insert nationality) so I can drink it,” I’d have more money than the prime minister.
It looks deceptively innocent: as clear as spring water. But it has a smell like turpentine and the kick of an enraged donkey. It will have you dancing, singing, and toasting like a full-blooded Georgian in no time.
Tchatcha is home-brewed, natural, and without preservatives, and capable of incapacitating even the most accomplished alcohol aficionados. Keeping up with all the toasts at a supra is the biggest test one can endure. The three mandatory toasts (for peace, the deceased, and the church) along with other toasts (children, love, women, homelands) put a strain on the brain, liver, and general well-being of anyone who has no tolerance for tchatcha.
Excessive consumption of tchatcha can lead to all sorts of mischief, so as with all good things moderation is the key to avoiding embarrassment, harm, or injury to yourself and others. Knowing supra etiquette, moderation is not easy to enforce, so eat as much as you can and stay hydrated with water and lemonade and maybe you can survive the supra and outlast even the tamada.
Drinking tchatcha is not for the faint-hearted, but TLG volunteers wouldn’t be in Georgia if they weren’t adventurous and ready for a challenge. I consider myself brave, but I am mortally afraid every time we have guests over and someone plunks down a Nabeghlavi or Sno water bottle on the table because I know it’s going to be a long night of protesting in vain that I have school in the morning and the guests insisting I drink to fifteen different toasts. What’s the score in the morning after a tchatcha encounter? Tchatcha 1—Volunteer 0, with a side order of a splitting headache and sleep deprivation.
You can love, hate, or simply tolerate tchatcha, but it’s not going anywhere. It’s as much a part of Georgia as khachapuri and lobio. Make peace, raise your glass, and drink a toast to the fiery water of Georgia. Tchatchas gaumarjos!