The Unique Tea Growing Regions of Kenya

Kenya is about the most unique tea growing region as you’ll ever find.  The very
first 
African tea bushes were planted in Kenya in 1903 when European settlers
experimented by planting a few tea bushes on a small two acre parcel of land in
Limuru, in Kenya’s Kiambu District.
From there production slow-
ly increased to the 
Kenya
Highlands and the areas of Kericho and
Nandi.  Today tea plantations cover over
4,000 square miles with more than a billion
tea bushes.
Kenya’s lower land is too hot for tea to grow
or survive, so plantations are situated higher
up at elevations of 4,500 to over 7,000 feet.
There the rich, red volcanic soil provides the
perfect base, while the cooler air, bountiful
sunshine, and ample moisture in the form of
approximately 47 to 106 inches a year,
gives the tea everything necessary to
flourish.
                                                Kenya is a fascinating, unique region and one of only a few
locations on the equator that maintains glaciers.  Ranging from
the snow-capped peaks of Mount Kenya, to the hot, arid floor
of the Great Rift Valley and its geothermal activities, to vast
plains teeming with amazing wildlife, and finally to the sunny
beaches and coastline of the Indian Ocean, Kenya is a country
of unique and fascinating features.
But aside from its natural attractions, Kenya is also known for the quality tea it grows.  The
Great Rift Valley splits Kenya in half, right down the middle, with tea growing on both sides.  The
Rift Valley floor is far too hot and dry to grow tea, but in the highlands the elevation and upland
climate are perfect for vigorous tea growth.

Mount Kenya, the second highest peak
lies in the eastern section of the Rift Valley.
Known as Mount Kirinyaga in the Kikuyu
language, Mount Kenya is one of only a few
locations on the equator that maintains
glaciers.  Located in Nyandarua or the
Aberdare Highlands, Mount Kenya is home
to the Kikuyu god Ngai.

This mountainous area is named after
Joseph Thompson, an Englishman and the
first Western explorer to visit this region
of Kenya.  Part of the highlands were des-
ignated as the Aberdare National Park in
1950, running down the mountain slope
and into the Nyeri region and Kenya’s
outlying eastern tea growing district.

Beginning in Nyeri the largest concentration of tea gardens are located one after another,
running southward through the regions of Kiambu, Maragua, Muranga, and Thika, ending
just north of Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi.  These tea gardens range in elevation from
4,900 feet to 8,850 feet.

On the western side of the Rift Valley, the majority of tea gardens are also situated in the
highland regions of Bomet, Kericho, Kisii, Nandi, Nyamira, and Sotik.

There is nearly an equal number of tea gardens located on
the east side of the Great Rift Valley in Kiambu, Kirinyaga,
Meru, Muranga, and Nyeri.

Even though tea grows year round in Kenya, the best tea is
plucked early in the year from January through early March,
and again in early to mid-summer from the end of June
through July.  Plucking is almost all done by hand with each
worker plucking an average of 30,000 new leaf shoots each day.

Ninety percent of Kenya’s tea production is black

CTC (cut-tear-curl) tea used mainly in
blends for tea bags.  Some Kenyan producers have begun to produce small amounts of
green and white “natural” teas, grown at high altitudes where pesticides and herbicides
are not needed.
The “natural white teas” are naturally dried as much as
possible, with a final mechanical drying to eliminate any
excess moisture remaining.  The “natural green teas” are
unoxidized and are neither steamed nor pan-fired, but are
simply twisted by a rotorvane machine and dried.

The Kangaita Tea Estate has also begun to manufacture
small amounts of orthodox black tea. If shopping for
Kenya teas look for Kangaita OP (orange pekoe), a high quality black orthodox, or Kenya
BOP (broken orange pekoe) blend, also a black orthodox tea.  The natural white orthodox
teas are Kenya Silverback White, and Kenya Safari Nandi White, and the natural green
tea is Kenya “Natural” Green Tea.

One last black orthodox tea to look for is Milima GFBOP1 (golden flowery broken orange
pekoe #1) (see our

naming/grading page for more info on what the names and grades
mean), produced by the British James Finlay Tea Co..  Milima means “In a High Place” in 
Swahili, and that’s exactly where it’s grown, 6,000 feet above sea level in the Kenyan Highlands.  Milima is a pure
black orthodox tea made from a blend of leaves from three gardens, and has lovely, orangey citrus and warm spice
aromas and flavors.

These are all definitely teas to seek out and try.  Enjoy.