As shown in my previous article about African teas, the countries of Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda are sizable producers of tea on the continent of Africa, with smallholders playing a key role.
In Tanzania (the 4th largest tea producer in Africa), on the east coast, tea is grown in Usambara in the Masai Steppe in the north, an area leading up to Mount Kilimanjaro, and in the Njombe and Mufindi regions in the south, where the foothills rise up to the mountains bordering the Great Rift Valley and Lake Malawi. When the country became a republic in 1961, the large foreign-owned estates were seized from those owners and turned into national property. Smallholders were encouraged to move in and start growing tea. Price controls were instituted and virtually destroyed tea production in the late 1990s, as natural market forces came into effect (why buy tea at an artificially high price when they could buy from somewhere else?). The industry revived when they returned some of the tea growing to foreign interests and also relaxed price controls. Smallholders remain and have formed associations to help them bring their tea leaves to market. Those leaves are processed into CTC black tea that has a strong, fruity flavor — a good example is English Breakfast Tea which blends Ceylon, Tanzanian, and Chinese to steep up a tea that is full bodied and astringent, with subtle touches of jammy toastiness. Drought in 2011 reduced harvest and resulted in a call to irrigate tea fields.
Zimbabwe is a relatively small country on the northern border of South Africa. Tea growing started in 1926 and is focused in the two main tea-growing regions in the eastern part of the country: the Honde Valley and Chipinge. The tea bushes are pruned back in the fall since the winter weather is too cold for year-round growth, and first flush comes in the following spring. Tanganda Tea, a major grower and producer there, is one of the best-selling brands of tea in central Africa, and they export bulk tea leaves worldwide. The tea leaves are machine processed into black tea and often end up in UK brands of tea bags as part of the blend. They lend a full flavor and bright color to the brew.
Rwanda is “the land of a thousand hills” with a combination of volcanic soils and high altitudes where the tea bushes grow lush and verdant. The country is a bit of a sad story that is getting better. In 1994 there was a mass genocide, killing off millions and destroying the economy. They are slowly coming back from that, with memorials becoming tourist sites, not to gawk but to commemorate. Tea has helped in this rebound and is a major crop, attracting investment from McLeod Russel and other large tea firms but also being grown by lots of smallholders. Yorkshire Tea uses Rwandan and other African teas in their blends such as Yorkshire Gold where the Rwandan component adds the fresh and lively dimension to the taste.
Tea Traditions — Africa
Teas from Africa: Kenya, Malawi, Uganda
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