Tea from Africa? You betcha. Africa is a pretty big place. No big surprise. It is, after all, a continent. But then, Australia is a continent, too, and considerably smaller, but don’t confuse me with facts. I’m on a roll here.
First, I have to make clear that this article is about true “tea,” not stuff being called tea. No Rooibos and Honeybush here. Yes, they, too, come from Africa, but they’ll be covered in another article. This is all about the Camellia Sinensis bush, also known as the tea plant.
The countries on the African continent where tea is grown are:
- Kenya (top producer and exporter on the continent)
- Madagascar (also a top source of vanilla)
- Malawi (the first country in Africa to cultivate tea)
- Mauritius (a little island off the east coast of Africa)
- South Africa (the Ntingwe Estate)
Teas vary in taste largely because of their growing conditions. This includes soil, climate, and when they are harvested. Each of the countries above has its own set of these conditions, so it’s logical that the teas grown in each will have their own unique taste qualities.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of them (the list is too long to include them all here):
Kenyan — Similar in taste to Assams. Sold both unblended and in blends. Used to temper the astringency of Assams yet blend with their malty flavors. One of the best bagged teas on the market (in this humble tea lover’s opinion), Devonshire Tea, is a blend of the teas from four different Kenyan estates. Other blends that include Kenyan teas are Buckingham Palace Garden Party, English Breakfast Blend No. 1 (a personal favorite), Barry’s Gold Blend and Irish Breakfast teas, Taylor’s of Harrogate English Breakfast, and many more. You can also buy pure Kenyan such as loose leaf Kambaa Estate (malty, golden brew that takes milk well).
Malawian — The pure tea is black and steeps to a reddish color. However, almost exclusively used in blends. Harvested during October through April (Summer in the Southern Hemisphere).
Mauritiusan — Comes from the six tea estates on this tiny island and is a very important part of the local economy. Produced using the CTC method, have a coppery liquid and good flavor and body. UK blenders categorize these teas as between Malawian and Kenyan, and use them to add color and body to a blend. Some Mauritiusan teas are grown in tandem with the vines from which vanilla is made. The result is a tea that has taken into its very cells the essence of vanilla, resulting in a vanilla tea that is flavored from within. That flavor comes through in multiple infusions, unlike most vanilla-flavored teas.
Rwandan — Has a reputation for superior taste among African teas. Tea productions is on a fairly small scale but results in some very interesting tasting teas.
South African (Ntingwe Kwazulu) — Fresh and lively with a bright and beautiful color. The Ntingwe Estate is the only tea grower of significance in South Africa. Senior buyer and blender Arnold Adhihetty of Taylor’s of Harrogate rates Ntingwe tea one of the five best teas in the world. The company markets this tea in the United Kingdom both in an unblended offering under the estate’s name and blended with other fine teas as Yorkshire Gold. The growing popularity of this tea, both abroad and increasingly with the local population is giving an economic boost to people who have few options. (See this review by author and tea lover Curtiss Ann Matlock.)
Tanzanian — Strong, fruity flavor mostly in CTC (Cut, Tear, Curl) form and always black (fully oxidized). When you see “Made from African teas” or similar wording, the odds are good that this is one of the teas used. There is also a fairly rare version of Tanzanian black tea called “Usambara Smoked” that is not blended. It is similar in taste to Chinese Lapsang Souchong and takes milk well.
Zimbabwean — Most tea harvesting and production is largely mechanized (like the Southern Tea Plantation is South Carolina). The tea is fully oxidized to black and used in blends. It adds a full flavor to those blends. One estate, Tanganda, is a top-seller in central Africa and exports bulk tea leaves throughout the world.
Phew! That was a regular tea safari! Hope this gives you a little better idea of what you’re getting when you buy a tea that is a blend containing teas from Africa, among others. Enjoy!
A.C. tackles the biggest, baddest and toughest tea-topics known to man on her blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!