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.