We were met by Vincent Mwing, The Quality Assurance & New Product Development Manager. A very smart and genuinely nice person. We were quickly served a delicious cup of Hot Milk Tea. Simply the best cup of tea we had had.
Meanwhile, he was giving us a short preview of tea growing in Kenya. The main tea growing areas in Kenya are situated in and around the highland areas on both sides of the Great Rift Valley, and astride the Equator within altitudes of between 1500 metres and 2700 metres above sea level. These regions include the areas around Mt. Kenya, the Aberdares escarpments, the Nyambene hills in Central Kenya, the Mau escarpment, Kericho Highlands, Nandi and Kisii Highlands, and the Cherangani Hills.
We were then walked through the Product research and development department where we were introduced to a variety of teas Including Black, white, purple Oolong, and Orthodox teas. Kenya is the Third largest tea producer but the world’s largest Exporter. China and India consume most of their own tea.
We learned that most Kenyan Tea is organically produced. The volcanic soils in these areas provide rich soil that does not require much to nourish the tea plant. Organic tea is grown following strict rules of organic cultivation, using only natural elements in the treatment of the soil, and fertilization process and providing natural light instead of any artificial light source. It makes no use whatsoever of destructive chemicals, preferring to go the natural way and encouraging Nature to provide for better crop cultivation. Chemicals are known to destroy not only the land where they are used but also the surrounding ecosystem.
They use natural fertilizers such as compost, and natural organic matter, and plants provide all the nutrients and elements needed by the soil to grow better crops. Tea bushes are planted - from 1 metre to 1.5 metres apart - to follow the natural contours of the landscape, sometimes growing on specially prepared terraces to help with irrigation and to prevent erosion.
We took samples of the different teas and steeped them as recommended. At 185˚F for 3-4 minutes, bring out the Theaflavins in the catechins.
Tea cupping is a process of tasting and evaluating the quality of loose-leaf tea. If you are new to this experience, it can appear comic almost laughable… you know the hissing sound and twitching of the mandible and tongue-twisting to reach the right palates. it's something...but it's a serious venture. It is a combination of art and science that is used by tea lovers throughout the world to maintain tea quality and tea-drinking satisfaction. It also helps to determine quality, taste, aroma, briskness, body, and color.
Cupping similar teas and comparing them against each other enables one to determine the best value when making a purchase.
This process enabled us to select our favorite tea products.
• VARIETY: White Tea- Silver Needle ORIGIN: Mt Kenya regions NOTES: The crème de la crème of white teas, is made entirely from downy buds. White tea is made from immature tea leaves that are picked shortly before the buds have fully opened. The tea takes its name from the silver fuzz that still covers the buds, which turns white when the tea is dried.
• VARIETY: White Peony- Kenyan Premium White. (Fermented Hand Rolled) ORIGIN: Mt Kenya regions TASTING NOTES: Pure white tea with mellow-sweet notes of fresh hay and accents of honey and nectar. The most common style of traditional white tea consists of two tea leaves and a bud. Gently processed and withered to an amber-orange infusion with low astringency, a very refreshing mouthfeel, and a mild flavor.
• VARIETY: Royal Purple Tea ORIGIN: Mt Kenya regions Note: The new purple variety, a whole-leaf tea made from two leaves and the bud. It has higher medicinal properties than green and black tea. Purple tea is a rare variety of tea grown around the Mt Kenya region in very selective gardens. It’s known to contain exceptionally high levels of anthocyanins and catechins.-which means it has super high levels of antioxidants. Purple tea is only grown in Kenya with limited availability worldwide.
• VARIETY: Black ( CTC) Safari Pure: Pekoe fanning and Broken Pekoes (PFI, BP1)ORIGIN: Mt Kenya regions NOTES: Full-bodied and robust black tea. It’s neater and more even than the pekoe, it is curly and free of the stalk and flaky leaves, and commands a higher price due to its brighter and cleaner liquors. Add cream and sugar for a full breakfast tea.
• VARIETY: Black (CTC) KATEPA TEA BAGS (Broken Orange Pekoe Fanning(BOPF)ORIGIN: Mt Kenya regions NOTES: Full-bodied and robust black tea in a tea bag. Has rapid brewing properties and gives a good strong flavor and color liquors. Add cream and sugar for a full breakfast tea.
• VARIETY: Green Tea - Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP )ORIGIN: Mt Kenya regions NOTES: This is a whole leaf grade that is well twisted and wiry. Green teas are not oxidized. They are withered, immediately steamed to prevent oxidation, and then rolled and dried. They are characterized by a delicate taste, and light green color, and are very refreshing.
Vincent recommended a follow-up trip visit to the Tea Factory- Kangaita Farm in Kirinyaga County, Kerugoya Kenya the next day Thursday. This was to be an exciting visit to Mt. Kenya slopes.