Kenya - one of the first countries in Africa to grow tea after the first bushes were introduced in 1903 by the Briton G.W.L. Caine and planted near Limuru in the Kiambu district - admittedly at the time only for ornamental purposes - but a foundation that was built upon when commercial production started in 1924 by Brooke Bond on colonist-occupied farms.
The country’s location means few fluctuations in weather and year round tea growth and production. This combined with the high levels of polythenols in the tea [which creates a bitter taste that repels bugs and eradicates the need for pesticides] has made this a go-to destination for the tea that has seen Kenya has become the world’s third biggest producer, making 474,808 tonnes in 2016, with the majority exported for use in commodity tea around the world. You can read more about the history of Kenyan tea to the modern day in our book Tales of the Tea Trade
With this in mind most of us will have experienced and enjoyed the unique profile of Kenyan tea without even being aware of its presence. Nameless Kenyan teas make up a large proportion of most tea bags, valued for their strong flavour, aroma and bright liquor colour, all of which are highly desirable. It is considered by many to be superior in quality to other similar-style teas around the world, which is why it has consistently been bought to be blended. The combination with cheaper teas reduces the cost per tea bag but maintains a good flavour and colour.
Of course at Comins we are interested in celebrating the great taste and provenance of Kenyan orthodox tea - a journey that took us there in 2017. After his first trip to Kenya Rob wrote a number of comprehensive blogs on how we came to travel to Kenya, our wonderful partners and our hopes for the future. Rather than repeat ourselves you can read more here >> introductory blog, blog 1, blog 2 and blog 3 from our visits to this fascinating country.
Our trip introduced us to a select few orthodox producers and showed us the green shoots of the move towards larger loose-leaf specialist tea. This, we believe, will unlock the incredible potential of Kenyan teas and see the strong flavour, aroma and bright liquor colour appreciated in orthodox offerings requested by name. .
It has been a long journey from that trip in 2017 to today but we have now chosen three producers to work with and are in the process of finalising the terms of our partnership. For many people [most in fact] agreeing a price per kilo usually involves negotiating down - on refection that is not an approach we have ever had to take with tea - we work with good honest people - but in the case of Kenyan Orthodox tea we have been offering much more than the requested price per kilo - to reflect what we believe the tea is worth based on our experience of teas of similar quality across the black tea producing world. The extra time has been taken to agree with the producers where that extra money will go and we will share that with you as we introduce the teas we have chosen over the coming weeks.
Until then we do have a number of samples in the Tea House so please do ask for a taste next time you are in. In the meantime if you want to read more of the stories of the people we met on our trip and their views on the Kenyan tea industry then why not make a cup of tea and read our book > Tales of the Tea Trade