Teas from Africa: Overview

Teas from Africa are in many of the top brands these days. (We’re talking about true teas here, not Rooibos.) Yet, tea growing in Africa started relatively recently — in the 1880s in the country of Malawi, about 40 years after tea cultivation began in Darjeeling, India, and almost 60 years after the Camellia Sinensis assamicavarietal of the tea plant was identified by Robert Bruce in Assam, India. Commercial tea production caught on in the 1950s. Virtually all of this tea is processed as black tea and is usually in CTC form.

Taylors of Harrogate Ntingwe Kwazulu Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)
Taylors of Harrogate Ntingwe Kwazulu Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

The crop has been important to the economies of the countries where it is grown, and growers have endured numerous hardships to keep it going. Politics, wars and violence, bad policies, and invasive wildlife (both plant and animal) have all presented challenges that, so far, the growers (the vast majority of them being small, family-run operations) have survived.

The tea started coming to the attention of tea buyers and blenders in the 1950s. The flavor was similar to Assam tea but with a much lower level of tannins. This made the tea less bitter and therefore more versatile, appealing to those who like their tea without milk as well as to those who like their tea with milk.

Some key countries in Africa where tea is grown:

I will be looking at these countries in more detail in upcoming articles, but wanted to give some general information now.

  • Kenya — Currently ranked 4th or possibly even 3rd in tea exports worldwide and 1st in Africa. Their teas quickly became the basis for a number of brands such as Barry’s, Lyon’s, and Bewley’s.
  • Malawi — Where tea growing began in Africa but now surpassed in output by Kenya. Tea was first grown here in 1878 and is generally considered high grade due to the excellent soil but is used in blends, especially in Europe.
  • Uganda — Improving their tea output after a long period of tribal and territorial conflicts (from 1972 onwards) that caused economic disaster.
  • Rwanda — Tea is one of the country’s biggest exports. It has an exceptionally fine flavor. Violent struggles threatened the tea industry entirely, but it has been bouncing back.
  • Tanzania — Surprisingly, tea was first planted here by, not English, but German settlers in 1905. Price controls and crippling government regulations almost put tea estates out of business but started turning around in the early 2000s.
  • Zimbabwe — Tea growing started in 1924 with seeds from Assam, India. Commercial success came about 40 years later. Cold Winter weather means that the plants go dormant until Spring. The tea is mostly used for blending.
  • South Africa — Known for Rooibos (redbush), this country is also home to one of the top tea estates: Ntingwe. Their tea is rated among the five best in the world.
  • Mauritius — A tiny island off the coast of East Africa with six active tea estates and six tea factories. The teas are used in blends to give color and body.
  • Mozambique — Another tea-growing country that saw quite a jump at an auction for its tea in March 2012 (67,365.00 kilos) over 2011 (14,838.00 kilos).

Some of the teas on the market that contain African Teas:

  • Buckingham Palace Garden Party tea — A lighter afternoon tea with hints of Earl Grey and Jasmine.
  • English Breakfast Blend No. 1 — A blend of the finest Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas with a full malty flavor and rich dark color.
  • French blend tea — A blend of Assam, Nilgiri, Ceylon, Kenyan, and China. The flavor blends richness, sprightliness, golden color notes, and delicate Jasmine. Added to this are lavender from Provence and rose petals.
  • Irish Breakfast tea — Robust tea blending Kenyan and Assam. A stronger flavor that makes a great start to the day.
  • Kambaa Estate tea — A strong Kenyan tea having a malty flavor with a hint of currant that steeps up bright golden and is good with milk.

Take your pick!

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6 thoughts on “Teas from Africa: Overview

  1. Pingback: Teas from Africa: Mozambique, South Africa, Mauritius « Tea Blog

  2. Pingback: Teas from Africa: Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Rwanda « Tea Blog

  3. Pingback: Teas from Africa: Kenya, Malawi, Uganda « Tea Blog

  4. Pingback: Tea and the Smallholders « Tea Blog

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