There are at least 13 tea-growing countries in Africa (and possibly more, as the crop gains in popularity). “Tea from Africa?” you ask. You betcha. First, I have to make clear that this article is about true “tea,” not stuff being called tea. No Rooibos and Honeybush here. Yes, they, too, come from Africa, but this is all about the Camellia sinensis bush, also known as the tea plant.
Some key countries in Africa where tea is grown:
An African tea mislabeled as a Darjeeling (one of many from this vendor that was mislabeled, since their staff knew almost nothing about tea). (See Note at end of this article.)
Teas vary in taste largely because of their growing conditions. This includes soil, climate, and when they are harvested. Each of the countries above has its own set of these conditions, so it’s logical that the teas grown in each will have their own unique taste qualities.
Teas from Africa are in many of the top brands these days. (We’re talking about true teas here, not Rooibos.) Yet, tea growing in Africa started relatively recently — in the 1880s in the country of Malawi, about 40 years after tea cultivation began in Darjeeling, India, and almost 60 years after the Camellia sinensis assamica varietal of the tea plant was identified by Robert Bruce in Assam, India. Commercial tea production caught on in the 1950s. Virtually all of this tea is processed as black tea and is usually in CTC form.
The crop has been important to the economies of the countries where it is grown, and growers have endured numerous hardships to keep it going. Politics, wars and violence, bad policies, and invasive wildlife (both plant and animal) have all presented challenges that, so far, the growers (the vast majority of them being small, family-run operations) have survived.
The tea started coming to the attention of tea buyers and blenders in the 1950s. The flavor was similar to Assam tea but with a much lower level of tannins. This made the tea less bitter and therefore more versatile, appealing to those who like their tea without milk as well as to those who like their tea with milk.
Phew! That was a regular tea safari! Hope this gives you a little better idea of what you’re getting when you buy a tea that is a blend containing teas from Africa, among others. Enjoy!
Note: For 6 years I wrote for the English Tea Store Blog and was editor during most of that time. In the beginning they seemed like a good tea vendor from which to buy, but over time it became clear that the owners knew very little about tea and that none of their employees cared about or were knowledgeable of tea. Mislabeling was common. So was the lack of sensible advice for anyone calling their Customer Service people. To my knowledge that has not changed. And since I stopped writing for them, they now have no one who knows tea on their side. Sadly, they are fairly typical of the larger tea vendors out there.
© 2016-2020 A.C. Cargill photos and text
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