The joy of a well-brewed tea is incomparable. A cup of tea has the magic to turn a frown into a smile, to warm you up on a cold day and to cool you down on a hot one. Tea with breakfast is standard across the world. Therefore, a well brewed cup of tea each morning is a good start for the day, but it is usually the second one (often at ten o’clock) that is cherished the most. Late in the afternoon, just before rush hour, when the sun has mellowed and time seems still, another cup of tea comes in handy. In these moments, time is not measured in seconds but in sips. This is the best time to bask in the joy of a good day or momentarily escape from a bad one with a good cup of tea
So where did this magic in a cup emanate from?
The history of tea is as fascinating as the brew itself. The Chinese have consumed tea for thousands of years. Evidence indeed shows that emperors from the Han Dynasty did consume tea as early as 2nd Century BC. It is believed they used tea for its medicinal value. Ultimately, drinking tea became theirs and the world’s favourite pastime.
Despite the Chinese consuming tea for thousands of years, it is during the Great British Empire that tea spread to different parts of the world.
Kenyan highlands are perfect tea growing regions. Despite this, it took more than 2000 years for tea to be introduced in the Kenya’s highlands. The first tea was planted in 1903 by GWL Caine in what is present day Limuru. He didn’t plant it for its commercial viability; he planted it as an ornament. Kenya’s top foreign exchange earner began as a decoration. It wasn’t until two decades later that tea’s commercial viability was explored. Kenya with its ideal tropical climate, volcanic red soils and well distributed rainfall was begging to become a tea country.It got its wish in the second decade of the 20th Century. It’s in the 1920s that tea started being farmed commercially and it has grown to become Kenya’s top foreign exchange earner.
Kenya is famed for its black tea. Black Tea is a type of tea that is more oxidized than others such as oolong, green and white teas. Black tea tends to be stronger than the less oxidized teas. In its purest form, Kenyan black tea is considered as one of the best quality in that category. It is described as full-bodied, robust with a bold tea flavour. So superior is Kenya’s tea that it is mixed with other teas creating blends such as Earl Grey tea, English Breakfast tea, English Afternoon tea, Irish Breakfast tea and Masala Chai. Due to its bold flavour, it goes well with milk and sugar too. However, to enjoy its best flavour, just mix it with water and some milk.
Currently, we are the biggest black tea exporter in the world and third largest overall tea producer after China and India respectively. Kenya’s projected output of tea in 2017 is 412,000 metric tonnes.This is a significant reduction from last year when we produced 480,330 metric tonnes according to the East African Tea trade Association (EATTA). This shortfall has been attributed to the failure of the 2016 short rains between the months of October and December.
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges tea producers are facing at the moment, with erratic rainfalls, occurrence of frost and increasing temperatures all affecting the quality and quantity of yields. The amount of rainfall a tea plantation receives is crucial since tea is a moisture heavy crop. Prolonged dry periods can lead to a complete wipe out of a respective year’s crop. Conversely, periods of very heavy rainfall can lead to water stagnation which is equally detrimental to tea plantations. Tea producer’s vulnerability to climate change may be exacerbated in the future if nothing is done to mitigate the frequency and intensity of the changes.
Thankfully, there are stakeholders such as the Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) who are working tirelessly to mitigate and solve challenges faced by tea producers. KTGA, through its members focuses on research and development of improved clones and appropriate crop husbandry technologies for improvement of yield and quality of tea produced.
With tea being such an important component of Kenya’s economy, as a country, we cannot afford to fall behind world standards, in terms of quality or output. It is with in mind that producers have to be innovative in their growing, harvesting and manufacturing regimes. Embracing technology enables Kenyan tea farmers to remain competitive. Tea prices have remained almost stagnant over the last ten years while production costs increase. Hikes in cost of every other essential input including fertilizer, energy, transport, labour and warehousing are reducing earnings and holding back investments. Tea producers cannot neglect quality as only good quality teas are competitive.
Since producers cannot set prices, they can only work at reducing costs. With labour being the single most expensive component of production, tea producers need to adapt to avoid going out of business. The cost of labour has been squeezing margins and life out of tea production forcing tea producers to map out new strategies on ways they can remain operational and still be competitive.Employees expect wages to keep pace with inflation, which cannot be achieved if we continue to do things the same way they have always been done. Productivity has to increase and even as producers modernise operations in order to achieve this, the large scale producers will always require thousands of employees.
Plucking technologies, which collect almost twenty times more tea in a day than manual labour, have enabled tea farmers in other countries producing tea globally (whom Kenya has to compete with) to remain operational. Kenyan tea farms continue to employ and be a source of income for thousands of people. Working conditions in tea estates are still some of the best in the agricultural sector. Not only do employees get better pay, they also get an array of benefits such as paid annual leave, free health care, nursery and primary education, free clean drinking water, electricity and housing.
Kenya’s vision 2030 places agriculture as one of the pillars that will herald the country into the future. While providing most of the country’s food requirements, agriculture contributes more than 60 per cent of the total export earnings and about 45 per cent of government revenue. Tea production is the largest contributor in the agricultural sector.Agriculture is estimated to have a further indirect contribution of nearly 25 per cent of GDP through linkages with manufacturing, distribution, and other service related sectors. It directly inﬂuences the overall economic performance with periods of high economic growth coinciding with increased agricultural growth.
It is imperative to preserve and protectKenya’s agriculture sector and especially tea. The tea industry isthe only export commodity crop that is still stable and surviving.With Black tea being the most preferred tea variety by the consumers due to its distinctive and diverse taste when consumed.The black tea segment will account for the major share of the tea market throughout the forecast period. Kenya’s teas are pesticide free, a competitive advantage that is yet to be exploited over many other tea-producing countries. This places Kenya at an enviable position because of the quality and quantity of tea we produce.
Market research analysts at Technavio predict that the global tea market will grow steadily at a rate of more than 4% by 2021. This market research analysis identifies the growing use of tea in beauty and skin treatments on top of conventional consumption as one of the primary growth factors.
For Kenya’s tea industry to survive and thrive it has to adapt to the changing trends of tea consumptions. Research indicates that value addition in tea is key to growth. Consumers are excited by new experiences and discoveries. This includes the discovery of new and differentiated flavours, formats and occasions. Recent uptake in consumption of speciality teassuch as the green tea, purple tea and orthodox tea has been influenced by the numerous health benefits outlined.
There is a demand for foods that are closer to their natural state. Consumers, especially in millennials, demand “less processed” food and drink, driving companies to remove artificial ingredients. This trend will also encourage consumers to reach foods in their most natural, original form, such as true teas or speciality teas for health benefits, instead of supplements and nutraceuticals. Tea is a natural, simple and whole food.
Kenya needs to increase the marketing of its tea.The tea market is highly-competitive. The market consists of numerous international and regional vendors who compete on factors such as price, quality, innovation, service, reputation, and distribution. The change in customer preferences and the economic and demographic conditions will influence which vendors will survive and thrive. Tea producers need to develop various business models, strategies, and action plans based on their target consumers.From product origins, histories and flavors, consumers are interested in the story behind the products, and tea has a great story.
Kenya’s tea industry hasn’t always been leaf and buds, it has and continues to face numerous challenges. However just like the strength in our tea, the industry has faced and surmounted challenges that at times seemed crippling but with commitment and visionary stakeholders such as Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) an association whose 17 members continue to strongly enhance, invest, protect and preserve our tea industry, we can hopefully continue to enjoy this cash crop for years to come. Kenya has come a long way in its first century as a tea producing nation. It is admirable how Kenya has managed to stamp its presence in the tea world. Not only has it created an entire industry from what was considered an ornament. Kenya has curved out a space in the tea world thanks to our quality of tea.