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African teas: vital contributors to the world market.


Africa contributes 72 percent of the world's cocoa production and 12 percent of the world's coffees. Lesser known is the fact that the 666,000 metric tons of tea produced by twelve African countries make up almost 34 percent of the global tea export market today and 13 percent of the global tea production. Tea is a relatively new crop in Africa, yet the industry is growing rapidly and solidly.

While Africa is the birthplace of coffee, which originates from the dense forests growing on the Ethiopian highlands, Western settlers introduced tea cultivation to the continent during the 19th century. Looking at Africa's topographic conditions it is obvious that wherever tropical and subtropical hilly lands receive abundant rains, the tea bush can grow and prosper. Though its history is brief, tea growing in Africa has been expanding quickly and thriving despite its youth and inter-country strife and conflict.


Today, significant tea production has been developed in twelve continental African countries, and there is also tea growing in the islands of Madagascar, Mauritius and La Reunion. The majority of the commercial tea growing resulted from British initiatives. With the purpose of ensuring supply for their ever-growing home-market demand, settlers started to grow tea in East and Central Africa and in Malawi by 1878, in Uganda in 1900, in Kenya in 1904, in Tanzania after 1920, and in Zimbabwe in 1925.

The Portuguese started tea planting in Mozambique in the 1920s, and in the mid 1955-60s tea was commercially planted by the French in Cameroon and by the Dutch in South Africa. Around 1955 the Belgian government introduced tea and coffee to the Congo, Rwanda and j Burundi. In 2006, the first tea garden was planted in Ethiopia. Between 1960 and 1963, all the previously colonial territories became independent and set themselves up as constitutional nations.

However, in the subsequent years, political conflicts broke out, often due to I arbitrarily drawn state borderlines, and resulted in turmoil and civil unrest and also led to the chasing away of non-African business operators. These conflicts badly affected some of the new nations' economies and also had adverse effects on the tea estates and the tea industries.

During the past 20 years or so, the regained political stability, strong market growth and better prices have given new incentives and have allowed tea production to thrive again: volume has grown by +36 percent over the past 10 years up to a total tea production of 666,000 metric tons (mt) in 2014.

Characteristics of African Teas

Most plant material were tea seeds originating from India and Sri Lanka, sometimes provided via the European Royal Gardens and sometimes brought directly from the origins. After decades of seed planting, the gardens gradually switched to cuttings and created their own nurseries. The first clonal varieties were developed by the Malawi Tea Research Foundation in the 1950s with the purpose of improving yield, cup quality and drought resistance. Most of the tea estates benefit from good soil, which is tropical red earth that is fertile as long as it gets enough rain. There are also areas with volcanic soil that are particularly ideal for both teas and coffees. In most of the African tea-producing countries there is no period of dormancy, and harvesting goes on throughout the year with the best quality leaf picked from the new flushes after the start of the rainy seasons.

The absence of serious pests and plant diseases due to the clean air and the natural environment behooves tea-growing in Africa. African teas are characterized by their strong color and brisk flavor without any astringency. Geared with the goal of volume from the start, black CTC teas target the mainstream market and are usually sold as blended teas. Since China's comeback in the late 1990s with its many | specialty and origin teas, African producers have decided to seek out their share of | this premium quality niche market. Also fully aware of the growing popularity of green teas, the first steps for carving out more refined flavor and leaf types started successfully in the early 2000s. By now each country has at least one garden that proudly caters to this specialty tea premium market with fine origin leaf teas, which is a highly rewarding achievement.

A Closer Look at the Big Six

There are six key tea-growing areas in Africa: Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. Each country has a distinct terroir, which results in the growth of uniquely distinguishable teas.

Kenya: The African tea giant, presented in detail in an article in T&CTJ's September 2015 issue, draws about 26 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from the tea sector. Almost 200,000 hectares (ha) of tea bushes are spread over the country's main eight tea regions and have produced about 445,100 mt of tea in 2014. The Kenyan tea economy is two-fold, run on one side by huge industrial tea estates, belonging to the world's tea majors Unilever (Lipton), Eastern Produce, Finlay's, George Williamson and fifteen smaller companies, and on the other side, by the Kenyan Tea Development Agency, which manages over 565,000 small-holder tea growers and processes their crop in 62 factories. This thriving tea economy has led to the founding of the East African Tea Trade Authority, EATTA, in 1956, and the establishment of the Mombasa Tea Auction, which later on became the world's biggest auction. Claiming that the highland soils create higher than average levels of polyphenols in their teas, the Kenya Tea Research Foundation in Kericho, released its first clonal varieties in 1964, and has conducted research work ever since for further improvements as well as the creation of new tea cultivars.

Thus, the recently released purple tea also is the result of these ongoing efforts to develop additional high quality leaf teas for niche markets. There is also some fine white tea manufactured by the Kangaita Factory, which demonstrates remarkable know-how.


Uganda: Currently ranked number two with an output of 65,400 mt in 2014, Uganda has been growing tea since the first tea plants were received in 1900 from the Royal British Botanical Gardens. Landlocked and home to the source of the Nile river, with a temperate humid climate and rich soil, Uganda grows tea in six main tea regions: in the West close to the Congo border, around Fort Portal on the slopes of the legendary Rwenzori Mountains, in the South around Ankole and Kigezi, on Lake Victoria Crescent around Toro, Mitanya and Masaka, and near the shores of Lake Albert in Hoima, Bunyoro. After independence in 1962, the fast-expanding tea production almost disappeared in the 1970s due to politi! cal turmoil and the government's expulsion of many Asian tea-estate owners.

In the early 1980s, the British entrepreneur Mitchell Cotts returned to Uganda and set up the Toro and Mityana Tea Co. This helped re-launch the country's tea production, which subsequently grew again, reaching 37,000 mt by 2005 and 65,400 mt in 2014.

In the late 1990s, with the assistance of European Union development funds and the World Bank, there was a revival of Uganda's many small-holder farms.

Today, around 14,000 of them are federated within the Uganda Tea Development Authority that operates four factories. The UTDA contributes around 54 percent of the tea output, the remaining 46 percent coming from the private estates.

Tea ranks third in export revenues, after coffee and fish, but lack of research and government incentives hamper quality improvement and product branding. Single-origin teas from Uganda are hardly available to the West, as about 70 percent of the teas enter the market through the Mombasa tea auction and are then blended.

One of the country's largest local tea producers is the Uganda Tea Corporation, which produces about 10 percent of Uganda's teas under the Sun brand for the home market. The world's biggest tea producer, the Indian McLeod Russel, owns six tea estates in Uganda's Ankole and Kigezi tea region and runs five factories with an output of around 16,000 mt, about 25 percent of the total volume.

An FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) study found that Uganda has over 200,000 ha of land suitable for tea growing, with only 21,000 ha currently planted. Hence, there is strong potential for future investment.

Some fine green leaf tea is made in Kahangi, a small coffee and tea growing estate in the foothills of the Rwenzori Range that was run by Countess Stead until 1972. Refurbished by the new owners in 2000, all the Kahangi teas have been certified organic since 2006. There is also herb-farming for a range of successfully marketed plant-based cosmetics.

Malawi: Currently ranked number three with a production of 45,900 mt of tea, the country actually has 125 years of commercial tea growing. Planted by the African Lakes Corporation near Blantyre, on the slopes of Mulanje Mountain, near the southern Mozambique border, the tea area was increased in 1908 with new gardens planted in the adjacent Thyolo district. In 1960, a third tea region was launched in Nkhata Bay, close to the shore of Lake Malawi. The Malawi Tea Research Foundation is intensely involved in the creation of new cultivars, and its chief executive, Dr. Albert Changaya, proudly noted that many award-winning teas from their neighbor countries have also been harvested from Malawi cultivar bushes. To date, he counts 36 commercially available tea varieties as having been developed in-house.

Being landlocked and far from Mombasa, Malawi set up its own tea auction in Limbe in 1970. From there teas are taken south to the leading buyer, South Africa, which imports about 40 percent of Malawi's teas. More teas are then also shipped to the UK, the second biggest buyer, and to the other markets.

Some fine specialty teas are marketed by the Satemwa Tea Estate, founded by the Kay family in 1923 and now run by the third generation. "In 2006, we decided to bring in some technical advice from Nigel Melican's Teacraft, because we were keen to demonstrate that it is possible to make some fine leaf teas in Africa" said Alex Kay. "Our Bvumbwe White Peony and Thyolo Black Fire are handcrafted, specialty leaf teas, precious and only available in small volumes. We are proud to pursue that premium production, even though it represents around only one percent of our tea output."

In September 2015, the Malawi 2020 Tea Revitalization Program was approved by the Tea Board of Malawi. The main goals of the program are improving the supply chain, focusing on better training and better income for the small holders, and creating better opportunities and income diversification for women, as well as replanting and upgrading bushes.

Tanzania: The fourth ranked producer, with 36,100 mt of tea produced in 2014, had tea introduced by German settlers in 1920 in the Usambara Mountains, after coffee had failed to prosper. More successful commercial growing was then undertaken by British planters, who established estates in the Southern Highlands in the Rungwe and Mufindi districts. A fourth tea region was created on the southwestern shore of Lake Victoria in Bukoba after Tanzania's independence. Over half of the country's output is small-holder crop; the other half comes from the industrial tea estates. There are currently 19 factories operating in Tanzania, with 20 percent of the output going to the domestic market, 30 percent exported directly to the big markets such as Pakistan, the UK and Russia, and the remaining 50 percent being sold through the Mombasa Tea Auction for blending.


The Tea Board of Tanzania intends to open up new tea areas in order to increase production by 10,000 mt over the next five years. One may find some fine leaf teas from Tanzania in a tea shop in Central London, produced by Luponde Tea Estate. Created in 1954, at an altitude of 1,200 m above sea level, in the Livingstone Mountain Range, the estate was purchased by young British tea lovers in 2008. They have invested into fair trade and organic certification for the orthodox black and green teas grown on their 730 ha. In addition to fine teas they also grow some organic herbs, sold as such or blended with the teas.

Rwanda: The fifth-leading tea producer in Africa, with 24,800 mt of tea produced in 2014, has five tea regions and 13,000 ha under tea. Landlocked and one of the smallest countries of the continent, Rwanda stretches over 26,300 km2 of hilly area, across a ridge of small burnt out volcanoes, hence the name "country of the rolling hills." After the dark years of the genocide and the civil war, peace was restored in 2006, allowing this mainly rural economy to relaunch tea and coffee production, which are prospering again, winning awards for their quality.

With tea being an important revenue earner, the government intends to dedicate more suitable land for the crop in order to increase the output by 50 percent over the next five years. There are presently 10 tea estates and tea factories, two of which are state-owned, two of which belong to the Indian giant McLeod Russel, three more of which have been refurbished by a local investor and produce the brand Rwanda Mountain Tea, and two more of which belong to local companies.

The first fully privatized estate, Sorwathe, belongs to the American company, Tea Importers, Inc., today run by Andrew Wertheim, the son of the founder. A pioneer within the Rwanda tea industry, Sorwathe was the first to be Rainforest Alliance, UTZ and Fair Trade certified. Since 2013, the estate has also complied with organic production requirements for part of its output. From its inception, the factory has been run by highly qualified managers and technicians from Sri Lanka, who were the first to introduce orthodox leaf manufacturing equipment and to launch green leaf teas for the home market and some exceptional white teas for the export market. All these efforts were made in cooperation with the national agricultural administration, and hence Sorwathe was nominated for the prestigious U.S. Secretary of I State's Award for Corporate Excellence in 2012.


Zimbabwe: Holds the sixth spot among the big tea producers, with 13,000 mt in 2014 and is the only country where production has decreased over the past 10 years. While completely within the tropical zone, Zimbabwe lies on a high plateau, with cold and dry winters. The only areas with abundant rains are the Eastern border with Mozambique, where tea growing started only after setting up irrigation systems.

In the two tea regions of Chipinga and Inyaga, commercial production was launched in the 1925s with seeds brought in from Assam. Several estates were developed between 1930 and 1945 by the Grafton Philips family, who sold the teas under the Tanganda brand. In the more recent past, the tea estates and factories have been purchased by the Meikles group, one of the biggest local food and hospitality industry operators. The Tanganda brand remains the undisputed leader in the markets of Central Africa, and bulk leaf is exported to the UK (the biggest customer) as well as to other European and Asian consumer markets. Zimbabwe teas have the reputation for having full flavor and high color cups.

Outlook for the African Tea Industry

The most recent FAO Global Tea Market Study expects the black tea market to grow around +3 percent per year until 2023, with supply and demand in equilibrium. With African tea output steadily growing, also in the six minor producing countries, wherever there is available land, the competition with coffee is strong, particularly in Ethiopia and Uganda where coffee gets more limelight.

The big issues for the near future are the raising wages and production costs. So far any major attempts to introduce mechanical harvesting have been totally rejected. With small-holder production contributing a major share to the various national countries' crops, this issue is on top of the agenda, followed by the threats of climate change. In order to keep prices firm, FAO strongly recommends that more efforts should be made towards expanding demand, in particular, in the producing countries' home markets.

Amongst the 13 significant continental African tea producers,
there are six that generate 95 percent of the output per the
London-based International Tea Committee's (ITC) 2015 Annual

Kenya:          445,100 mt     +37.6%
Uganda:          65,400 mt     +73.5%
Malawi:          45,900 mt     +20.8%
Tanzania:        36,100 mt     +18.8%
Rwanda:          24,800 mt     +50.3%
Zimbabwe:        13,000 mt     -12.8%

The other seven, producing below 10,000 metric tons per year
each, are:

Burundi:          9,000 mt     +15.3%
Ethiopia:         6,200 mt     +26.5%
Mozambique:       6,600 mt     +83.3%
Cameroon:         4,600 mt        N/C
DR of Congo:      3,600 mt       +20%
South Africa:     3,900 mt       +77%
Mauritius:        1,700 mt     +21.4%

Madagascar and lie de la Reunion also produce some tea, but no
data are available.

Michael Bunston OBE, a tea broker since 1959 and partner with Wilson Smithett since 1975, and ITC chairman from 1993 to 2013, offered firsthand insight on Africa's tea production. "I spent 18 months in Uganda during 1966 and 1967, at that time civil war had already broken out. In charge of looking after the seven state-owned tea estates and their factories with a lot of new tea making machinery, I saw that impressive progress had been made. I continued to visit every year from 1970 to 1975. Coming back in 1980 we saw real disaster, with tea fields grown into forests and abandoned. It took over two years to re-launch good production, which has grown by over 70 percent during the past ten years."

Bunston noted that he visited Rwanda for the first time in 1970 to look at the nascent tea industry, which had expanded over the 20 years to cover thousands of hectares and to create thousands of jobs. "I went back every year until 1992. Returning to Rwanda in 1994 after the horrors of genocide, we tried to assist with the rehabilitation of the tea industry and get their fine teas back to the London Tea Auction. Thriving and expanding, Rwanda's tea output has increased by more than 50 percent over the past ten years. My belief is that there is a great future for African teas."

Barbara Dufrene is the former Secretary General of the European Tea Committee and editor of La Nouvelle Presse du The. She may be reached at:
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Title Annotation:AFRICAN TEAS
Comment:African teas: vital contributors to the world market.(AFRICAN TEAS)
Author:Dufrene, Barbara
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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