As shown in my previous article about African teas, the countries of Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda are key producers of tea on the continent of Africa.
Malawi, relatively small in land area, was the first country on that continent to start growing tea commercially in 1878. Their tea is an important component of tea blends, primarily in Europe, and give these blends a higher quality of taste. Part of this success is attributed to the special tea varietals developed for their rather unpredictable weather. The southern region of the country also proved the best for growing tea, and harvesting is done during their (Southern Hemisphere) Summer from October to April.
Tea tourism helps add to Malawi’s economic benefit from this crop which is the country’s second biggest foreign-exchange earner, contributing almost 8% of total export earnings, according to the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI). Their teas are sold at auction where prices have tended to be rather low, a situation they are trying to remedy. They are also looking to expand in the green tea market in Eastern Asia.
Uganda was a strong player in the tea production arena after World War I in Africa, but starting in 1972 and until recently they had a long period of tribal and territorial conflicts that severely hurt the tea industry along with other parts of their economy. They have rebounded and are currently the third highest tea producer. About 26% of Uganda’s tea crop is grown on tea plantations owned by Rwenzori Highlands Tea Company and have undergone rehabilitation of the gardens and the factories. The Uganda Tea Association was founded in 1948 and helped identify those areas in the country suitable for tea growing, a total of 200,000 hectares in the northern crescent of Lake Victoria, South and Western Highlands, and the West Nile regions.
In December 2009, the “elephant in the room” McLeod Russel India acquired six tea estates in Uganda with a total production of 15 million kg from UK-based James Finlay Ltd.
The top tea producing country in Africa at present, Kenya caught on fairly quickly to the best methods of producing teas based on Camellia Sinensis assamica. Their teas are now the basis for a number of brands such as Barry’s, Lyon’s, and Bewley’s. Tea production is done by smallholders and by companies such as Brooke Bond, African Highlands (formerly James Finlay) and Eastern Produce Limited operating large estates that are organized under the Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) and that account for about 40% of the Kenyan tea production. Most Kenyan tea is processed by the CTC (Cut, Tear, and Curl) method as black tea in primarily three grades: Broken Pekoe, Pekoe Fannings, and Pekoe Dusts. It is usually bagged, has a strong flavor and a reddish color similar to Assam tea. I find that there is not nearly as much bitterness in it, though, even when steeped up strong. A great example is Kambaa Estate Tea. Some good blends containing Kenyan are English Breakfast Blend No. 1 Tea, Buckingham Palace Garden Party Tea, and French Blend Tea, and Irish Breakfast Tea.
More examples abound, and since not all tea companies list the origin of their teas, saying simply that they contain “black tea,” there may be far more than you realize. Considering their wonderful flavor, that’s a very good thing!
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