Tea 101: Origins – Africa
A Massive Continent Yields Multiple Teas
Africa is a relative newcomer to the tea industry, and has used its late arrival to its advantage, building on the experience of those who came before to emerge as a world renowned, tea-producing powerhouse. In fact, Kenya stands as the third largest producer, globally, after China and India.
Additional tea-producing African countries include Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, which combined produce nearly 30% of the world’s exports – or roughly 514,000 tons of tea.
Africa’s Top Producers
• Kenya: In 1903, the first tea seeds from India were planted on two Kenyan acres. From that legacy, a total of 203,006 hectares of cultivation ultimately grew.
Almost all Kenyan black tea is produced using the “Cut-Tear-Curl” or CTC method, which came to prominence in the mid-20th century to fill the need for tea bags.
Today, Kenya exports more than 443,000 tons of tea per year – or approximately 25% of the world’s exports – buoyed by the country’s unique climate which facilitates year-round production.
Kenya’s teas are known for their bright color with a coppery tint, and brisk flavor.
• Malawi: Commercial production in Malawi began back in the 19th century, around the time that Sri Lankan production took a considerable hit. It’s first plantations secured the country’s status a tea-making pioneer in Africa. Although not as well known, perhaps, as Kenya’s specialty teas, Malawi’s product is said to be richer and deeper, with an unmistakable deep, red coloring that resembles the soil it is grown in.
• Zimbabwe: Because rainfall in Zimbabwe reaches no more than 26 inches annually, tea production was only made possible in the country after its estates implemented irrigation practices. Tea remains a “controlled” commodity, here, and exports typically reach 11,000 tons every year from approximately 5,500 hectares.
• South Africa: Though not a major player in global tea production, South Africa is responsible for rooibos, an herbal infusion believed to offer multiple health benefits, including cancer-fighting properties.
• Morocco: Like South Africa, Morocco is also not a tea producer, technically, but is actually renowned for its unique creation: Moroccan mint tea. This concoction marries gunpowder green tea imported from China with peppermint.
Interestingly, throughout North and West Africa, sweet, hot tea – often blended with mint – is commonplace. Sugar is added during the steeping process, which uses boiling hot water, and is allowed to dissolve completely to create its unique flavor. Leaves are left steeping in the pot, allowing the flavor profile to evolve with each cup poured.
This sweet tea is so central to life in Senegal, Mali, and other countries, many homes dedicate a burner on their stove to this function, alone. It is served at every meal, to guests, and upon waking up in the morning.