Known as the largest tea growing country in Africa and the 3rd in world tea production, the Kenya tea industry has evolved radically over the years and grown beyond expectations.
Originally, tea was first cultivated by a European settler in 1903. However, the tea industry continued to grow over time, with 60% of tea now been processed by small scale farmers and 40% by large scale industrial farms, also known as tea estates.
Most of these teas are sold to and bought by multinational tea and commodities firms like Unilever, James Finlay, and Williamson Tea. Due to the international interest, the small-scale farms are coordinated by the Kenya Tea Development Authority while the large estates are promoted by the Association of Kenya Tea Growers.
Tea growing areas in Kenya
Kenya is located on the equator; the country has a semi-arid tropical climate with steppe and semi-desert in the low-lying areas and montane forest at the higher altitudes. This implies that much of Kenya's climate is too arid to grow tea. However, the tea growing regions tend to be concentrated in higher-altitude areas in the West and East of The Great Rift Valley as these regions receive greater rainfall and tend to be cooler. Some of the popular tea growing areas include the following: To the East: Embu, Kiambu, Meru, Muranga, Nyeri, and to the West: Kericho, Nandi, Sotik, and Kisii.
What Makes Kenyan Tea Different?
Due to the level of international attraction the Kenya tea industry has drawn, one question so many business owners tend to ask is, "Why is Kenya tea different, and what makes teas grown in this country stand out." The answer isn't far-fetched.
First, Kenya is known for its rich red volcanic soil, adequate rainfall, and excess sunshine, which supplies abundant moisture content. This means that Kenyan tea can be grown throughout the year with no less fertile period. Isn't that amazing? But that isn't all.
Over 90% of Kenya tea is cut-tear-curl (CTC) used in tea bag blends. At present, the country is well known for its state of the arts CTC production technology, which places the nation as one of the largest markets for tea blends for multinationals.
Kenya isn't stopping yet in making the country a one-stop-shop for the best quality teas; the country is also planning to create a brand identity by adding value incentives such as organic certifications to attract more firms in various parts of the world and also, increase its tea price in the retail market place.
The rising demand for orthodox tea worldwide has also made it easy for most Kenyan tea producers to venture into orthodox tea production. You may ask, why is this specialty different? It offers the best choice of broad-leafed teas that are, for the most part, hand-made or with orthodox specialty machinery which works just like human hands to ensure that the delicacy is preserved. These teas are of great quality and do not contain chemicals like herbicides or pesticides used for weed control.
The increase in tea growing in Kenya can be attributed to the production of quality tea from small and large-scale farmers due to virgin forest land and terroir that’s perfect for cultivating young tea bushes. This raises the demand for bulk CTC blends that are used by tea blenders in various parts of the world to add quality, flavors, and strength to their brands. This is why Kenyan tea can be found in popular blends in the western world in countries like UK, USA, Germany, Russia, and the Middle East, among so many others.