Brief history of Kenyan tea
Kenyan tea fields
Kenya is the most successful tea producing country in Africa, but it is not the first to attempt tea cultivation (that would be South Africa in the late 19th Century). Neither is tea native to Kenya, but its importation and cultivation was not at the behest of the British government (which ruled Kenya from 1895-1963). In the early 20th century, Arnold Butler McDonell (Sottish-born) purchased land in Kenya from the British government. Every crop he had tried to cultivate there failed. By chance, in 1918 a friend gave him a gift of Camellia sinensis seedlings from India and the new plants thrived in their new mountainous environment. McDonell was the first tea entrepreneur in Kenya – developing tea growing practices, building a tea processing factory, and delivering it to market where he was the first to make the pitch that Kenyan teas deserved attention. Kenya is now one of the largest tea producers in the world.
Kenya Growing Conditions
Kenya’s unique geological position makes it ideal for growing tea. The equator runs right through the middle of Kenya and the Great Rift Valley runs north-south, splitting the country in half. The mountains on each side of the rift valley make excellent growing conditions for tea – tropical climate, high-altitudes, volcanic soil. The tea plants will produce all year in most of Kenya, but the spring and fall harvests tend to produce the best results. Kenya produces about 400 million kg of tea per year (only China and India produce more).
Kenyan Black Tea
Kenya is the largest tea exporter in the world. Most of the tea produced there is inexpensive CTC black tea for export. But there is increasing efforts to produce high quality orthodox tea, particularly in the Nandi Hills of western Kenya. Kenya teas tend to produce cups that are full bodied and brisk, but with a uniquely sweet juniper flavor.
Kenyan Purple Tea
Purple tea leaves
Kenya has been successful at marketing “Purple Tea”, which gets its name from the purple color of the plants. This is a natural mutation that can occur and comes from high levels of anthocyanin in the plant. Anthocyanin is a water-soluble flavonoid that can appear red-purple-blue depending on their PH levels. Purple leaf varieties have also been found growing wild in Yunnan province of China and are being cultivated there as well.