Jambo (hello in Swahili),
My name is Keith and I am part of the Tazo Tea Procurement team and just returned from a two week trip to Eastern Africa. I wanted to share a few of our observations and some pictures from the trip. The purpose of our trip was to explore new tea options in Rwanda and Malawi while strengthening our tea supply chain out of Kenya. Tazo® currently buys Kenyan CTC (crush, torn and curled) tea for our Chai Tea Latte. Indian Assam tea along with the Kenyan tea provide the base in this drink to support cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, ginger, star anise and milk.
Our trip started out in Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills. This country is stunning and known for its green hills and gorillas. We met up with Chris von Zastrow, the manager of the Farmer Support Center in Kigali, and taught him a thing or two about tea. After a two hour drive outside the city, we made our way to the Sorwathe Tea Estate. Finishing up a large expansion, this estate now produces orthodox full leaf tea along with the traditional CTC tea. New full leaf teas are definitely on our radar since the launch of Tazo® full leaf teas this past January. Rwandan teas may be an option in the future.
Next, we visited Kenya, one of the largest tea exporters in the world. Kenyan teas are known to be bright and colory with a medium mouth feel. After spending time in Nairobi, we headed three hours north to the west of the Rift tea producing region of Kericho. We passed through the Nakuro area, one of largest flower growing regions in the world and a flamingo sanctuary. We also visited the Changana Estate, which is one of twelve estates in the area supplying four of the company’s Kericho factories. Machinery, a type of green leaf used, and production method determine the taste of the finished tea leaf.
The next few days were spent touring five more estates including one from the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA). The 57 KTDA factories are a cooperative of smallholder tea growers that have ownership in the factory. Tea prices are quite high this year with the shortfall of world tea production in 2009, so farmers received about 25% more for their tea this
year. We were impressed with the estate, smallholder leaf plucking standards and the short length of time between plucking time and withering at the factory (generally around one hour).
Malawi is the second largest producer of African tea and the country where tea was first cultivated on the continent. We used Blantyre as a base and toured five estates in the Tyholo and Mulanje areas. Malawi teas are mainly used in the United Kingdom because of their deep color and neutral taste. We are having samples of Malawi teas sent to Portland to taste them in our water and evaluate against other teas we buy.
Blantyre Malawi is not an easy location to fly back from to our home base in Portland, Oregon. It also didn’t help that everyone was trying to get to Vancouver, B.C. for the start of the Olympics. After 65 hours of travel with long layovers in Johannesburg, London, and Toronto, it felt so good to land in the City of Roses. Now the real work begins … catching up on tea procurement and getting ready for summer and the iced tea season.