Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Kenyan black tea from Kangaita

When I was studying tea a fellow student -- who turned out to be a ringer of sorts (he was an established tea merchant and blender) -- brought some three-week old Kenyan tea to share with the class.  It was a stand-out:  mind-blowingly rich in flavour breadth.  A truly fresh cup of tea and one against which I have measured black tea since.  Hence my conviction that, nice as alot of tea here is, it doesn't hold a candle to freshly manufactured tea because it is often 6 months to 5 years old and therefore stale by comparison.

So I was interested to try this Kenyan black tea made at the Kangaita Tea Factory from Camellia Sinensis.

Kenyan black from Kangaita

Thrillingly, for a tea detective comme moi, there's tons of info at the Tea Board of Kenya's site.

From there I get: "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 (4900 ft) and 2700 metres (8800 ft) above the sea level. These regions include the areas around Mt. Kenya, the Aberdares, and the Nyambene hills in the Central Kenya and the Mau escarpment , Kericho Highlands, Nandi  and Kisii Highlands and the Cherangani Hills."  That's incredibly high.  The Indian Nilgiri tea region boasts having the highest tea plantation at 8000 feet (the Korakundah Estate) so it looks like Kenya may beat them.  And the "high grown" teas of Sri Lanka are generally at 6000 feet.

From my tea studies at George Brown College I understood that tea plantations the world over relied on heavy fertilising to get the plants to deliver the quantity needed to be economically viable.  Interestingly the Kenyan Tea Board site says that "Kenya tea is grown free of agrochemicals because the ideal environment in which the tea is grown acts as a natural deterrent to pests’ infestation and diseases attack;"  If that's so then all Kenyan tea is organic, right?  Must check that out.  Wait.  Further down the page they talk about using fertilisers in compliance with recommendations and ditto for agrochemicals when needed for pests. Clearly not organic.  Bit confusing though.

(Excerpted from their website) Kangaita is one of the 60 factories being managed by the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA). It  is one of the oldest tea factories within the KTDA stable having been built in 1965 and currently serves about 5730 small scale tea farmers. 

Kangaita Tea Factory is located on the southern slopes of Mount Kenya, 700 meters from the start of the extensive Mount Kenya forest and with a spectacular view of the snow capped peaks of the Mountain. It’s on a relatively high altitude of 2036M above sea level approximately ½° south of the equator and approximately along the 37.3° E longitude.
More than 40 years as a tea processor gives the company a solid experience in this industry. This, combined with cool climatic conditions, high altitude and volcanic soils gives Kangaita an edge as a producer of teas with excellent taste and aroma popular with our key markets such as the United Kingdom and Pakistan.

Kangaita is Fair-Trade certified, which means it sells its teas at a premium and the surplus is used to develop local community projects. The factory is also ISO 9001-2000 certified.

The Tea...
The wet leaves are a coppery brown with some very dark green showing and give off some of the vegetable soup aroma which I remember, as well as a brief, fruity sweet note like peaches and then a heavier raiseny scent I associate with most black tea.

The liquor has a full firm body with fruity flavour notes. Tea's natural bitterness is softened and rounded here by a hint of caramely sweetness. I added milk for the last half of the cup as is my wont -- and on the last few sips there's a faint, cocoa flavour note.

This is definitely not a three-week old tea -- it doesn't have the breadth and strength of flavour notes of that first cup of Kenyan I had.  But it retains some of the distinctive (to my palate) vegetable soup and fruity notes.  I wouldn't say this is a sophisticated or complex tea, but very pleasant for this afternoon.

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