Teefeld in Kenia von Tenfarmrsandbananas

Tea in Kenya

Tea in Kenya

  • The beginnings of Kenya's tea history
  • Tea through the ages
  • The tea trade in Kenya
  • Characteristic properties of Kenyan tea

In Kenya, tea is called Chai in Swhaili, the local language. Chai comes from the Chinese word cha, meaning tea (pronounced only in two different Chinese dialects). The Swahili word Chai is taken from the Arabic because there is an Arabic-African mixed culture on the Kenyan coast and the coast of East Africa has been in trade contact with the Near and Far East for centuries.

The beginnings of Kenya's tea history

Tea cultivation in Kenya is officially recorded as 1903, when a British immigrant family tried their luck at tea-making. In 1903 Kenya had been a British protectorate for a number of years and English families began to settle in the Kenyan highlands.

Said family hit a gold mine, because the growing conditions were excellent. There was a lot of rain and a lot of sunlight. The average temperatures of 24°, at 1,500m and 2,700m made life pleasant.

The Evergreen Highlands made a superb cup of tea . The tea plantations grew rapidly and the tea was soon being planted en masse, processed and exported and shipped to England. Locals themselves were not allowed to grow tea ( and coffee ) during the colonial period and were only used as pickers.

Tea through the ages

About half a century later, independence came and the country was redistributed. In 1956, Africans were allowed to grow their own tea for the first time.

The small farmers joined together and founded cooperatives. These cooperatives settled across the two great Kenyan highland plateaus of the famous Rift Valley, which stretches from Ethiopia to Mozambique. There are tea growing areas around Mount Kenya, in Central Kenya and west of the Rift Valley.

Unlike China, there was no culture of self-processing . So a family or small groups that process the tea themselves, since tea processing requires a certain amount of know-how. Because after independence there were no outlets to cover the supply within Kenya, the whole process was taken over by the Kenyan KTDA (Kenya Tea Development Association), a governmental organization that regulated the tea market, managed the cooperatives and marketed the tea outside the country.

Outside of this system there are also a handful of larger companies. According to the Kenya Tea Board, there are currently 141 tea companies cultivating tea on around 160,000 hectares of land.

In summary, the following varieties are grown in Kenya:

  • Black Tea CTC
  • Black Orthodox Tea
  • Green tea
  • White tea
  • purple tea

The tea trade in Kenya

The tea exchange in Mombasa is now the second most important tea exchange in the world and Kenya is the world champion black tea exporter in general. Tea sales averaged $573,626,750 from 2012-2019. Mainly black tea is grown and exported, typified as CTC ( Cut Tear Curl ).

These are tea leaves that are formed into small balls and are sold loose or in tea bags. Long orthodox tea leaves, green, white and purple tea are only available in small quantities.

Most of the tea grown is exported. The amount of tea grown and exported is between 400000 - 500000 tons.

Next to England, Pakistan is the largest tea importer of Kenyan tea. Followed by Sudan, Egypt, and the Middle East. Indian tea traders also buy Kenyan tea to upgrade their own tea blends.

Characteristic properties of Kenyan tea

Kenyan black tea as the main player, is mainly reddish copper in the cup. This reflects the often reddish earth of the country. It tastes fruity, lemony and has a fine maltiness . In addition, it is super productive, which is why it is in such high demand. Purple tea that we offer is a completely different kind of tea and we report on that in the other blogs.

You can find out more about tea processing and background information about tea in Kenya in our tea seminar with a live link to the purple tea plantation of RedHill Biofarm.

Back to blog