Africa may not be at the top of your mental list of tea-producing continents, but you'd better believe they grow it. Though export to North America is not as widespread as the teas of China, Japan, Taiwan, and India, the teas produced in Africa fall quietly below our radar but are certainly worth exploring.
One of the reasons African teas are less popular in this part of the land is their processing. The teas—Kenya and East Africa are among the major producers—are predominantly black teas, darkly roasted and processed using a method called Crush-Tear-Curl, or CTC. The Crush-Tear-Curl method sends tea through a fine-toothed roller machine that breaks down the roasted leaves into small particles as its final stage of production. The resulting tea is more granular than leafy (or twisty, or bally) and resembles pellets or coarse coffee grounds more than it may resemble what you imagine to be tea. CTC tea is, of course, ideal for putting in bags, as the small sized particles require hardly any room to expand in order to make good surface contact for infusion. Extractions are quick and intensely flavored—but often at the expense of nuanced taste.
Another risk of this method is that it's much easier to blend lower-quality teas with higher-quality teas without it being visually apparent—meaning you'll want to be more careful about knowing the real sources of your tea when purchasing a CTC tea. That said, the rich, so-called "liquory" flavors of these teas can be great morning or milk-adding teas.
We rounded up three teas from different regions of Africa and gave them a spin.
Introduced to Tanzania in the early 1900s by German settlers, tea is a relatively new crop for this East African nation. The Luponde Estate produces not only the black tea we tried, but green and white as well, and dedicates a portion of their plantation to organically produced teas. Their black tea, CTC pellets with some slightly larger leaf remnants, is a smooth-drinking toasty and malty tea with a quick finish.
Luponde Estate website
South Africa Ntingwe Kwazulu Leaf Tea
Leaf tea is an interesting name for this pelletized CTC tea, but you'll find a deep robust flavor from this small tea garden in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa. It's "brisk" to say the least —dry, crisp and unshy, with a tart, orange pulp finish. Its constituent flavors are somewhat indistinct but the sum of its parts is one big cup. Pairs wonderfully with milk.
Taylors of Harrogate Ntngwe Kwazulu Leaf Tea online
Grown and hand-picked by smallholder farmers in Western Kenya, this is the most delicate of the Africans we sampled: airy, fresh, floral and naturally sweet while still full of the rich depth expected from this style of tea. This tastes orange-creamy in milk, but more than holds its own as a morning, afternoon, or after-dinner tea. This tea is socially conscious, employing womens' groups to handcraft the beautiful and unusual papercraft packaging, and carries its message through in the cup.
Ajiri Tea website
Next time you're at your local tea trader, try a cup from this rich and fertile continent.