The history of Tea is long and complex, spreading across multiple cultures over the span of centuries. Thousands of different varieties of teas are available all over the world, varying by the region grown, time of year picked, and processing method. Perhaps Africa is not top on your mental list of tea producing continents, but as we explore and will discover, Africa grows a variety of popular teas.
Let’s Explore Africa…
Africa has greatly increased its tea production in recent decades with tea producing countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe producing about 32% of world exports (the great majority for export to Europe and North America, respectively). Produced on large estates, often owned by tea companies from the export markets, where almost all production is of basic mass-market teas are processed by the “Crush, Tear, Curl” method. The CTC method sends tea through a fine-toothed roller machine, which breaks down the roasted leaves into small particles, and resembles what we traditionally imagine to be tea (and is ideal for putting into tea bags).
South Africa – has become infamous for their herbal infused Rooibos Teas made from the South African Red Bush, commonly referred to as “Red Tea”. An herbal gem, the South African Green Rooibos Teas are mild in taste and come with an impressive resume of benefits. The Green Rooibos leaves are lightly steamed to halt the oxidation process, preserving the South African herb’s natural enzymes. And, let us not overlook the South African Honey Bush – grown in the wild with its soft, clear honey tones, it can be blended to create a wide variety of flavors.
Kenya – one of the oldest of the African producers, Kenya has a history of tea dating back to 1903, when tea seeds from India were first planted on a two acre farm. Kenya’s equatorial climate allows tea growing all year round, creating teas that are very bright and colorful, with a reddish coppery tint and a pleasant brisk flavor.
Malawi – nicknamed “The Warm Heart of Africa,” Malawi is Africa’s second largest tea producer next to Kenya and a pioneer of tea growing in Africa. With production first starting commercially in the 1880s in Mulanje, Malawi was the first African country to adopt the cloning method of estate refurbishment. Although Malawi teas are not as well known as specialty teas, their superb color and brightness make them ideal for blending with other tea types.
Zimbabwe – tea production in Zimbabwe began commercially only after the successful establishment of irrigated tea estates. With an average annual rainfall of not more than 26 inches per annum, as opposed to the 50 plus inches per annum usually required, irrigation is essential to continuous growth. Today, tea is a “controlled” commodity in Zimbabwe so that its quality and industry growth are protected.