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Rwanda, Kenya, and Volcanic Terroir

Posted on 06/28/2023

Did you know that tea-producing countries in Africa, such as Kenya and Rwanda, grow almost a third of the world's tea supply? Because most of the world’s tea is grown in Asia, Africa is often overlooked in conversations about tea production. Yet, most people have enjoyed more than a cuppa or two of African black tea whether they know it or not. Some of the most popular tea bags in the world contain some percentage of black tea from Africa. Teas from Africa boast pleasing toasty notes, making them a popular addition to breakfast blends and flavored teas. They are also a delight to drink on their own. In short, we think African teas are underrated.

Tea grown in Africa is brisk and bright. Surprisingly, the tea plants themselves are the same variety that is grown, and originated, in the Assam region of India — Camellia sinensis assamica. Assam tea is dark and malty, so what differentiates these two types of tea and varies their flavor so drastically? The secret is terroir, a term used in wine and tea production that refers to how geography and the characteristics of soil contribute to the taste of tea. Terroir also helps us decide what tea produced in any given area usually tastes like, so we can tell if a cup of tea is characteristic of its region.

The terroir of African teas is remarkable. Tea farms in Rwanda are mostly situated in and around the Virunga mountain range, a huge chain of volcanoes that runs throughout the region. Three of them remain active. The volcanic soil nourishes the plants, impacting what minerals the leaves absorb and ultimately the taste of the tea. The terroir of the volcanic soil is so desirable that tea has become one of Rwanda’s main crop exports, providing thousands of jobs. Tea from Rwanda exhibits a subtle floral sweetness and peppery spice notes, smooth yet brisk.

Most of the tea grown in Kenya is grown in the Kenyan Highlands, on both sides of the Great Rift Valley. Kenyan tea is also grown in volcanic soil, producing a flavor that is bright and brisk. Tea from Kenya is toasty with a hint of rose.

 

The flavor of African tea differs greatly from one country to another. Africa is a vast continent, and each terroir’s impact on flavor is palpable. With the aroma and flavor truly unique to each terroir, try a sample of tea from each country and see for yourself. Remember when you take a sip that your tea may have sprouted in the shade of an active volcano.

 

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