In Africa, tea is big business. From the year-round plantations in Kenya to the centuries-old bushes in Malawi, the continent has a rich and growing tradition when it comes to crafting the perfect brew. We look at some of the biggest tea-producing countries in the continent, and explore what makes their blend quite so special.
Kenya isn’t only the largest tea producer in Africa, it’s one of the biggest exporters in the world. While the country trails behind China and India in terms of how much it produces, it still is a leader when it comes to exports.
“The UK imports over 50% of its tea from Kenya – it’s an important region,” says Angela Pryce, an independent tea consultant and former master buyer and blender for Twinings.
“Interestingly, when you look at the world of tea production, China and India are big tea drinkers, so most of what they produce they consume internally. Kenya is different in that most of what they produce is exported,” she adds.
Though booming, Kenya’s tea industry is fairly new, according to Pryce, who says that it only really got its start in the 1950s.
“Kenya’s teas are newer, brighter, brisker. The terroir gives them different characteristics,” she says. Almost all of the tea produced in Kenya is black tea, and produced with a modern method known as CTC, or Cut-Tear-Curl – a method that gained popularity in the mid-20th century as a filler for tea bags.
Kenya’s location also makes it advantageous, says Pryce.
“It’s right on the equator, which means teas are produced all year long and are non-seasonal, which is great if you’re looking at it from a buyer’s perspective. The further south of the equator you go, the more seasonal teas become.”
Malawi has the oldest plantations in all of Africa, with some bushes dating back to the 19th century. As such, notes Pryce, Malawian teas are richer and deeper than those produced from Kenya.
“Malawi’s tea industry came about in the 19th century, around the same time that the coffee crop in Sri Lanka failed. At that time, coffee planters moved away from Sri Lanka and moved to Malawi and started planting tea,” says Pryce.
The soil in Malawi is a rich red, and the “liquor” (industry-speak for the liquid from the brew) takes on the same vibrant hue.
“Malawi teas are renowned to buyers around the world for the deep red color,” notes Pryce.
Though South Africa is a pretty minor player in the global tea trade, it is a major exporter in rooibos. Though often confused with tea, rooibos is actually an herbal infusion that is often blended with tea or else drunk as a caffeine-free alternative.