The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Kenya-Africa's Largest and Most Successful
Tea Growing Region
Kenya is the largest tea growing country in Africa, ranking fourth in world tea
production and third in exports in 2008.  The first Kenyan tea was cultivated in
1903 in Limuru in the Kiambu District, planted by a European settler named
Caine on a small, two acre parcel of land.
 
Today, those same tea bush-
es have grown into large
trees, providing a historical look at the past,
located on what is now Unilever's Mabroukie
Tea Estate.

Kenya's tea industry is divided into two dis-
tinct divisions; the large scale tea plantation
division, and the small scale tea farms called
smallholders. There are more than half a
million registered smallholder farms located
across the tea growing areas of
Kenya.

The remaining tea is grown and brought to
market by large multinational tea or com-
modities firms, the four largest of which are:  
Unilever, James Finlay, Williamson Tea
in the U.K.), and Eastern Producers (based in Kenya). The tea grown and produced by these
large privately owned tea estates is promoted by the Kenya Tea Growers Association.

In 1965 the Kenya Tea Development Authority or KTDA was formed
to help promote and support the smallholder farmers.  Smallholder
members of the KTDA grow and process in excess of 60% of Ken-
ya's tea.  (In 2010 Kenya produced a total of 1,398.5 M. kgs.).

Kenya tea is marketed as one brand under the KTDA.  With the cum-
ulative production of all smallholder farms, the KTDA is the largest
tea producer in the world, operating over 50 factories that process
the leaf from over half a million smallholder farms.

Kenya has a near perfect tropical climate,
with tea gardens situated at higher eleva-
tions, ranging from 4,900 to over 8,000 feet.
With plentiful sunshine and abundant rain-
fall in the range of 47 to 106 inches per year,
providing the necessary moisture, and to-
gether with rich, red volcanic soil, Kenyan
teas grow in abundance year round with no
dormant period.

Even with year round growth, the best teas
are still harvested in the early part of the
year, from January through March, and again
in early to mid-summer, in June and July.

          Approximately 90% of Kenyan teas
          are CTC (cut-tear-curl) used in
tea bag blends.  Recognized as the leader in CTC produc-
          tion and technology, Kenya uses its expertise to position itself and Kenyan teas, favora-
          bly in the world tea market, and as well as in the
tea blends of many large, international
          tea companies.

                                                           Most of Kenya's teas are sold as bulk CTC blends used by
                                                           tea blenders the world over to add a punch of quality, ro-
                                                           bust flavor and strength to their brands, accounting for a
                                                           large percentage of the tea used in popular proprietary
                                                           blends from England, Ireland, and Scotland, known for
                                                           their strong and robust teas.

                                                           Kenya is working hard to create a national brand identity,
          using value added incentives such as
Fair Trade and organic certifications to attract more
          consumer attention worldwide and command higher prices for Kenyan tea in the retail
          marketplace.

          Although it is rare to find unblended Kenyan tea in the U.S., keep an eye out for garden
          marks from these estates:  Marinya, Mugania, Mynunga, Gathuthi, Githambo, Imenti,
          Kangaita, Keigoi, and Rukuriri.

          With the growing interest worldwide in
specialty orthodox
          teas, the KTDA has recently begun to diversify into orthodox
          manufacture at the Kangaita Tea Estate.  Specially chosen
          clonal tea plants produce an excellent selection of broad-
          leafed teas, made with special orthodox machinery import-
          ed from
India for processing.  The teas have been so suc-
          cessful, plans have been made to continue and expand orth-
          odox manufacture.

          In other areas Kenyan tea producers are making various styles of green and white
          "natural teas," grown at high altitudes without the need for pesticides or herbicides for
          pest or weed control.  These teas are strictly seasonal to achieve the best quality and
          character and receive minimal handling and processing.

          The
white teas are natually dried as much as possible, with a final mechanical drying to
          eliminate any excess moisture. The
green teas are also treated as naturally as possible.
          They are unoxidized, neither steamed nor pan-fired, but are simply twisted in a rotor-
          vane machine and dried.
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Look for Kenya Silverback White and Kenya Safari Nandi White, and Kenya "Natural" Green Tea at your local tea shop
or online.  And for a quality black Kenya tea, look for Milima GFBOP1 (Milima Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe #1)
(see our
naming/grading page for descriptions of letter grades and what they mean), which is made from a blend of
leaves from three tea gardens belonging to the British owned, James Finlay Tea Company.

Milima means "In a High Place," in Swahili and it's an appropriate name as it grows in
the Kenyan Highlands at more than 6,000 feet above sea level.  The cool air and rocky
soil concentrate the tea leaves with wonderful flavors of orange and spice.  The tea
leaves are processed at the Marinyn Estate, where they are first withered, rolled in the
orthodox fashion between two plates, then oxidized and dried.

Although the quality of Milima varies from year to year, at its best it offers a zesty citrusy
orange, and warm spice aromas and flavors.  It's definitely a tea to watch and try.
Enjoy.