Africa – A Relative Newcomer Quickly Rises to #4 in World Tea Production

Even though Africa is a relative newcomer to growing tea, it’s the 4th largest
tea producer today after China, 
Sri Lanka, and India.  In 1903 a European sett-
ler named Caine planted the first tea on a two acre parcel of land in Limuru in
Kenya’s Kiambu District, establishing the first tea gardens in what was then a
British colony, before spreading into the Kenya Highlands of Kericho and Nandi.
By the 1920’s African tea was being manufactured commercially by the British,
until the 1950’s when South Asia won independence from Great Britain.
Today Africa produces nearly half a million
tons of tea annually, grown primarily in the
African nations of Kenya, 
Uganda, and Zimbabwe.  Smaller
tea gardens are also starting to develop in
the regions of Burundi, Cameroon, Congo-
Zaire, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Mozambique,
South Africa, and Zambia.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations estimates that world tea
produc- tion is expected to grow approxi-
mately 1.7% per year, through 2014.  The
African countries of

Kenya, Malawi, Uganda,
and Tanzania is expected to see significant
growth in production as tea bushes mature
and come of age, and the tea workers ex-

perience, knowledge, and skills in growing and producing tea reaches the top.

Tea grows in nearly every country in Africa with the largest tea pro-
ducer being Kenya.  Tea gardens there thrive on both sides of the
Great Rift Valley at altitudes ranging from 4,900 feet to 8,850 feet.
The tea thrives in the higher elevations in the cool mountain air and
the rich, mineral filled volcanic soil.  Moist air rises from Lake Victoria
and falls as rain over the mountains providing abundant moisture
for the tea bushes with approximately 47 to 106 inches of rain per year.

The Tea Board of Kenya was established in 1950 to oversee their most important cash crop. The
Kenya Tea Development Authority or KTDA was established fifteen years later in 1965 to further
promote and support teacultivation by small-
holder farmers in growing regions of Kenya.

Today in Kenya the tea plantations cover over
4,000 square miles with more than a billion
tea bushes.  The tea is almost entirely hand-
plucked with each tea worker plucking app-
roximately 30,000 leaf shoots per day. Even
though the tea bushes flush year round, the
best teas are harvested in late January to ear-
ly February.

Over 12% of Kenya’s population works
in the tea industry today, with approx-
imately half a million people involved in
some aspect of tea production.

Today the KTDA has 430,000 smallholder farmers who grow and sell their tea to 98 tea
factories, 55 of which are under KTDA management, with others privately owned by
multinational tea companies, in which four of the largest
in the country are:  Unilever, James Finlay, Williamson Tea
(based in the U.K.), and Kenya-based Eastern Producers.

The tea factories operated by the KTDA are situated in
central locations to the surrounding tea gardens.  The tea
farmers bring their freshly plucked leaf to a weighing
center each day where it is credited to their accounts.
From the weighing station the leaf then goes to the tea
factory where it is graded.  For many of the farmers tea is their main income, accounting
for up to 90% of their yearly income.

Most of the tea produced in Africa is CTC (cut-tear-curl) used
 tea bag blends.  Kenya has been recognized as the indus-
try leader in CTC tea production and technology. With nearly
90% of its black teas sold as bulk CTC tea, Kenya uses its
expertise to position its teas favorably in the world market,
and in turn the 
tea blends of many large international coun-
tries.  A small amount of orthodox green and white tea is
also beginning to be produced in Kenya.

Mombasa, Kenya’s main port town situated on the Indian
Ocean coast, houses the second largest tea auction house
in the world. Every Tuesday of the week, throughout the year, brokers working on behalf
of the producers sell marked lots of tea to importers from around the world.

Up to 85% of Kenya’s annual tea production is sold in this way, with the remainder sold
either privately to tea importers, or consumed locally.

Africa’s second highest peak, Mount Kenya is located in the eastern section of the Rift
Valley.  In the local Kikuyu language it is called Mount Kirinyaga, and it’s one of the few
locations on the equator that maintains glaciers.  Located in Nyandarua or the Aberdare

Highlands, Mount Kenya is home to the Kikuyu god Ngai.

The mountainous area of Mount Kenya is named after Englishman Joseph Thompson, the  first Western explorer to
venture into this region of Kenya.  Part of the highlands were  designated as the Aberdare National Park in 1950, an
area stretching down the moun tain to the Nyeri region and the outlying eastern tea growing district.

Although most of their tea is CTC for tea bag blends, due to worldwide interest in orthodox
specialty teas the Kenya Tea Development Authority has recently begun to diversify into ortho-
dox manufacturing at the Kangaita Tea Estate.

Also, some Kenyan producers are working on making different styles of white and green
“natural” teas, grown at high altitudes with cooler temperatures with no need for pesticides.
The tea bushes are planted close together forming their own tight natural canopy preventing
the growth of weeds, therefore herbicides are also not needed.

Special clonal varieties of tea plants were carefully chosen to produce an excellent selection
of large-leafed teas, as well as new orthodox machinery was imported from India.  In fact, these new teas from the
Kangaita Tea Estate have turned out to be so successful there are plans for furthering orthodox tea manufacture.

This is good news for tea drinkers everywhere as there is always room for more quality orthodox teas to choose from
and … Enjoy.