The Teas of Malawi – Africa’s Second Largest Tea Producer

Nicknamed “The Warm Heart of Africa,” Malawi is Africa’s second largest tea pro-
ducer next to 
Kenya.  Located in southeast Africa it is landlocked, bordered by
Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast and Mozambique to the
east, south, and west.  Malawi is separated from 
Tanzania and Mozambique by
Lake Malawi.
Settled in the 10th century,
Malawi remained under native rule until 1891
when it was colonized by the British who
ruled until 1964.  Malawi’s tea industry dates
back to 1891 when a Scottish planter named
Henry Brown settled there after losing all of
his coffee in 
Sri Lanka due to disease.
The very first tea seeds obtained by Brown
came by way of Scottish Missionaries who
received them from
the Royal Botanic
Gardens in Edin-
burgh. He used
these seeds to es-
tablish the first suc-
cessful tea gardens
on his estate, locat-
ed in what was then called Nyasaland.
                                              Later plantations were established in the lowlands of Mulanje
and Thyolo in the Shire Highlands using seeds from natal in
South Africa taken from tea plants that had been originally
transplanted from Ceylon (
Sri Lanka).
Over 50,000 people work on Malawi’s tea estates during the
peak tea season from October to April, when plentiful rain
encourages the tea bushes to flush continuously.  That number is reduced to approximately
30,000 during the dry season.  In fact,
Malawi’s tea industry is one of the largest
employers of women, with over 51% of the
total workforce female.

Malawi’s unpredictable weather patterns
can make tea growing difficult during certain
periods, but the tea planters have worked
on introducing more new, heartier clonal
plants to help alleviate this problem. Malawi
was the first African country to introduce
clonal methods of estate refurbishment.

The Tea Replanting Program was begun in
1996, financed by the European Union
through STABEX (Stabilization of Export
Earnings) to replant older varieties of
tea with improved quality and higher yields through irrigation, especially in the Mulanje
District where water is available.

To date over 1,800 hectares of tea have been replanted with the improved, higher
yielding cultivars under the Tea Replanting Program.  But even with the financial assist-
ance, progress has been slow because of the high costs in raising nurseries for tea
seeding, along with high replanting and irrigation costs.

Another organization working to provide new clonal varieties for replanting is the Tea
Research Foundation, established in the 1960s, and financed entirely by the tea industry.
Founded with research as its main objective, it has worked on the propagation of superior
grade cultivars and so far approximately 10% of Malawi tea is made up of this superior
grade of tea bush.

There are presently about 18,000 hectares of tea grown in Malawi.
About half or 9,000 hectares are located in Thyolo, 6,220 hectares
in Mulanje, and 650 hectares in Nkhata Bay located on the western
shore of Lake Malawi.

Malawi’s tea industry is made up of mainly large commercial tea es-
tates with 15,600 hectares or 84% owned by large, commercial en-
terprises, and 2,900 hectares or 16% run by smallholders, mainly in
the Mulanje and Thyolo Districts of Southern Malawi.

Malawi exports over 35,000 tons of tea yearly.  Over 64% of Malawi tea is exported to

 U.K. and South Africa, but today they export to over 30 countries including the U.S.,
Canada, Pakistan and the Middle East.  Some of their efforts to export to the U.S., how-
ever, have been hampered by the Bioterrorism Act of the 
In the past Malawi mainly produced

CTC teas (cut-tear-curl) that
were prized for their bright color and rich flavor, adding quality to
tea bag and loose leaf blends.  But just like other African tea
                                           regions, the producers are beginning to manufacture more unique
specialty teas.
One example is a 3rd generation tea company, Satemwa Tea
Estates, Ltd., established in the 1920s in the Shire Highlands, just
north of  Blantyre, Malawi’s second largest city.  Satemwa
coordinates and markets handmade white, green, and specialty
teas produced by smallholder tea farmers.

In 2006, Nigel Melican of Teacraft, Ltd., a U.K. consultant to the international tea industry began working with
Satemwa to develop their special teas.  Before then no one realized that the African Assamica type bushes which had
traditionally produced strong, red-liquoring CTC 
black teas could turn out delicate white teas with soft, floral rose
scents, and mild, non-astringent 
green teas with notes of sweet and fruity apricot.
The total output of these special handmade teas from Satemwa, made by smallholder
farmers is still small, only about 1.9 tons per year.  They may be hard to find, but if you’re
determined look for Salima Peony, with a sweet, flowery aroma and light, fruity taste. Also
look for Mulanje Needles, with sweet floral tones and flavor of crisp red apples.

And finally, an unusual specialty tea, Antlers d’Amour, made from just the juicy stems at
the very tip of each shoot where the delicate aroma is most concentrated.  The name “antlers” comes from the dry
stems that are velvety looking, like a deer’s antlers in the early spring.  It has the gentle aroma of soft rose petals and
sweet, soft nutty undertones.