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Kenyan Tea Production and Varieties Grown

 Tea is the second most consumed beverage worldwide. Camellia sinensis is the scientific name of a tea shrub. The top leaves and buds are harvested and processed to produce tea (the beverage).

Kenyan tea is regarded as one of the best in the world. Most of the tea produced is black tea, however other types of tea; green tea, purple tea, and white tea are also produced. The fertile volcanic red soils with acidic pH, give Kenyan tea its distinct taste; a unique richness and concentrated flavor profile-strong and earthy taste. Also, climate is a factor as well and plays a role in the fruity taste. Kenyan tea has higher antioxidant levels than other teas.

The majority of the tea, however, is sold to international markets. Common Kenyan blends in the international market include: Kenya FBOP from  TeaSource, Nandi Royal, and Royal Tajiri  Tea. Kenyan tea on the international market is identified by a variety name and tea estate grown.

A tea plantation in Kenya
A tea plantation in Kenya

Harvesting

 Tea leaves are majorly hand plucked or harvesting machines used for large plantations. A group of two young leaves and buds are picked. New flushes grow between a week to two before they can be picked again. Picking tea should be done carefully as injuring the plucks will degrade the quality. Since Kenya lies on the equator, tea picking is done continuously throughout the year. Harvested tea is collected in a nearby Tea Collection Center where weighing is done and collected in sisal meshed bags awaiting transportation by trucks to the factory.

Tea farmers Tea Collection Centre
 Tea farmers bringing in their harvest to a Tea Collection Centre [Image: kilimonews.co.ke]

 Tea is transported to the factory in open trucks, and the bags are hung on hooked poles to preserve the freshness of the harvested tea

Kenyan Tea Truck
Tea Truck [Image: thestar.co.ke]

How  tea is processed

At the factory, tea is weighed and transported on a monorail leaves are sampled and analyzed for quality control. Tea is spread on open channels and withered for hours with conditioned air, which removes surface moisture from the leaf surfaces. This process reduces moisture by over 15% depending on the current season of harvest.

The production uses the CTC (Cut, Tear, Curl) method to process black tea into pellets that brew nicely. 

Leaves are then rolled by roller machines breaking the cell structures to increase surface area for oxygen adsorption (oxidation) in the next stage, and also to activate enzymes. Rolled-down leaves are then spread out evenly to allow fermentation to take place. Temperatures are adjusted depending on the season thus moisture content in leaves. i.e. more fermentation is done for wet and humid seasons and vice versa. After fermentation the leaf color changes from green to brown.

The fermented tea proceeds to a dryer or oven where moisture content is further reduced below 5%. Black tea is now ready for packing


Types of Kenyan Teas

Each tea type has a unique flavor profile and different health benefits:

Black tea undergoes full oxidization and it makes up for over 90% of tea consumed worldwide. It is the most concentrated and flavorful. It can be drunk with black or with milk. Black tea has polyphenols that help maintain healthy cell structure. It also fights carcinogenic cells that may be cancer-causing. The high caffeine levels help promote alertness and energy. Flavonols present help mitigate heart conditions and vascular diseases.

For green tea, the fermentation process is not done to completion but instead partially. This preserves natural antioxidants and benefits. It also helps with metabolism and weight loss by burning down excess body fats.

Safari Kenyan Black Tea
Kenyan Black  Tea

Purple tea is processed like other teas. It has a mild taste. The purple is from the high amount of anthocyanins also present in most berries which have anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants. Purple tea is partially oxidized during processing. It has anti-aging components that help maintain a youthful look and wrinkle-free skin. Has lower calories than other tea types. It also regulates blood sugar levels and can combat diabetes. It has a better taste than green tea.

Kenyan Purple Tea
Purple  Tea

White tea has the highest antioxidant levels while black tea has the least. It has a sweet flavor and is enjoyed plain. It has similar properties to green tea.

Kenyan White Tea
Kenyan White  Tea

Popular Kenya teas are from Kericho county; Kericho tea and Finlays Kericho


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