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Around the World with Tea: AFRICA




Welcome to the next stop on our ‘Around the World’ series, where we'll be discovering all the teas of Africa. Enjoy this excerpt from Time for Tea, written by Tom Parker-Bowles, with illustrations by Zebedee Helm and photography by David Loftus.


While India, China and Japan are perhaps the most famed of tea-growing countries, they are certainly not the only ones. Hell no. After Asia, Africa produces the second highest amount of tea in the world, with a whopping 62% coming from Kenya. In all, African producers provide 12% of the world’s tea production.


The tea here is grown down in the south of the country, near the Kenyan border, and shares a similar climate and terrain, meaning quality can be very high. An area to watch, producing strong, full-bodied teas with their own idiosyncratic notes.


Tea was first planted here in 1904 by the British Caine brothers, from seedlings taken from Darjeeling. Yup, another relic of Empire, but for once, a positive one, because tea thrived in the cool climate and the wonderfully rich, red volcanic soil of Kenya’s Highlands, sitting on both sides of the Great Rift Valley. It’s the third largest producer of tea in the world, the international leader in CTC black tea, as well as producing a small amount of white and green tea. And, as a percentage of what it produces, it’s the world’s largest tea exporter.


For many years, though, the tea industry was very much a colonial possession, and it wasn’t until Independence in 1963 that the Kenyan Tea Development Agency (KTDA) was formed, supporting Kenyan farmers with their own tea farms. It ensures t hat high standards are constantly maintained. Now, around 60% of all Kenyan tea production is from smallholders who supply their leaf to the KTDA factories, with the remainder of production coming from large multinational-owned estates.


The Rift Valley sits plumb on the Equator, at an altitude of between 1,500 and 2,700 metres, which makes it perfect for tea. The days are long and sunny, there’s plenty of rain, and the harvest goes on all year round. 40% of tea imported to the UK is from Kenya. It’s the mainstay of the Great British cuppa.


Much of the tea produced in Kenya, typically bright, brisk and punchy, is strong CTC, highly valued by tea blending houses around the world. It has a depth of colour, a sort of reddish copper tint, which works well with milk. Which is why it is unusual to find single- estate teas, although some do exist, such as Kangaita (although this is a KTDA factory name, not an actual estate) and Milima.


Africa’s second largest producer of tea, Malawi was also the place where tea was first planted on the African sub-continent. Like Kenya, the bulk of its teas are CTC, and are used in black tea blends. The tea often gets less at auction than it costs to produce, something not unique to Malawi, as the giant industrial agri- businesses are the only ones that can produce cheap tea in huge quantities, on fully automated farms. Still, rare exceptions like the Satemwa Tea Estate produce black, green, oolong and white. This, perhaps, is a glimpse of Malawi tea’s future.  


Thanks to political unrest, tea production here has been disrupted and has declined. The teas are black, strong and are used mainly in the domestic market, or for tea-bag blends.


With wonderfully rich soil, and lashings of rain, the terrain and climate here are ideally suited to high- quality tea production. And while the brutal civil war of the 1990s almost destroyed the trade, the country’s eleven tea estates are starting to roar once more. The teas are mainly CTC black, with some orthodox blacks and greens too.  


Although commercial production in Tanzania didn’t start until the mid-1920s, tea was actually introduced here by German settlers in 1902. Quality can be high, especially from the single estates, but there are big variations in the harvesting and processing standards. The teas are strong black CTC teas, with fruity, often complex profiles.


Introduced into the Botanic Gardens at Entebbe in 1909, commercial cultivation of tea didn’t kick off in Uganda until the end of the 1920s, when Brooke Bond planted thousands of acres. By 1970, tea had become the country’s most important export. But political instability, combined with labour shortages and low yields, didn’t help. The teas grown are all black, although not always of the highest quality. They are mostly exported for tea-bag blends, cheap filling for mainstream commercial blends.


There are two main tea-growing areas here, Chipinge and Honde Valley. As rainfall is low, a decent irrigation system is required. All tea is black CTC, strong and beefy, mainly exported for cost-reducing blending. Standards have lowered over the past few years – a result of the country’s unstable economic and political regime.