Kenya is the fourth-largest producer of tea worldwide and the only country in Africa to produce a substantial amount of tea for the world market. The Eastern African nation has also recently emerged as a major source of innovation in new varieties of tea and single origin artisan teas. Over 60% of Kenyan tea is produced by smallholder farmers and marketed through the Kenya Tea Development Agency.
Tea production is crucial to Kenya’s overall economy, and in the town of Limuru in Central Kenya tea producers are becoming more adventurous in the creation of specialty teas.
The General Manager of the 138 hectare Kipenda Tea Farm in Limuru, Zakaria Amada, commented that it had been a good year for the country’s tea industry in comparison to last year.
On an average day at the Kipenda Tea Farm, over 200 labourers begin their day in the field at the crack of dawn where they pluck tea leaves, and send the finest leaves to a factory for processing.
“Once the tea leaves are plucked, they are loaded onto the trucks and sent to Korongo Factory in Limuru where they are put through a rolling machine to extract the oils which maintain their flavour”, said Zakaria.
He added “after the extraction of the oils, they are taken through a process of fermentation and then dried, packaged and branded before finally being sent out to a Mombasa auction team for export and retail”. At the Mombasa Tea Auction, the tea is exported for use in global markets.
Tea in Kenya is usually processed by the cut, twist curl method, also known as CTC tea. “Although the producers of the tea will explain that crushed leaves offer more surface area and therefore a more flavorful cup, most tea connoisseurs will disagree,” he explained.
Kenya’s specialty tea industry has blossomed in recent years. There are now green teas and white teas being produced, including the novel styles of tea such as white matcha. Kenya is also the site of development of new varieties of the tea plant. This includes purple tea, which is a tea plant rich in the purple-colored anthocyanins found in blueberries and raspberries.
Last year, according to the Tea Board of Kenya, Kenyan tea earned the Eastern African nations some $1.3bn in 2014 with Kenya having had exported 494.4m kilos of tea. By June this year, Kenya had exported around 249.7m kilos, which is higher than last year’s half-year exports that stood at 246.6m kilos.
Kenya’s main tea export markets are Egypt, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, UK and UAE with emerging markets including Angola, Vietnam, Philippines, Azerbaijan, South Korea, Czech Republic, Myanmar and South Sudan.
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