Rooibos Country

Rooibos Country

South Africa's Southern Cape is the only region in the world producing Rooibos Tea. Mulanje Tea went for a visit to see how it's done. 

Below is Bergendal Rooibos - on the Brakfontein Estate. Carmein Tea and the Bergendal Rooibos operation are partners. Their operations are not only a large employer in the area, they've enabled 50% employee equity ownership of their businesses through the Bergendal Worker's Trust and Mouton Workers Trust. 

Bergendal Rooibos in Citrusdal, South Africa - ~2hr North from Cape Town. 

Bergendal Rooibos in Citrusdal, South Africa - ~2hr North from Cape Town. 

Finn with Minki and Danie at Carmein Tea's tasting room. 

Finn with Minki and Danie at Carmein Tea's tasting room. 

Rooibos is harvested and laid out to ferment, then dry in open yards. After fermentation, which converts an otherwise green crop to a red/rusty color, rooibos is rigorously cleaned and graded in the Bergendal Rooibos facility adjacent to the yards. 

Fermentation yards at Bergendal

Fermentation yards at Bergendal

Here's the end goal in Rooibos... avoid the red categories. 

Here's the end goal in Rooibos... avoid the red categories. 

Makandi Tea Estate

Makandi Tea Estate

Blantyre, Malawi - situated just 30 minutes away from one of the world's leading tea producing region - is the industrial and commercial hub. 

The scene on the road from Tunga to Chisungu Tea Factory

The scene on the road from Tunga to Chisungu Tea Factory

After a few days hanging with family, it was time to get down to business. Christine, my sister-in-law and key person on the ground in Malawi, accompanied me for a tour of Chisunga Tea Factory in Thyolo. 

Tunga - a small minibus station and market. Tea fields in the background. 

Tunga - a small minibus station and market. Tea fields in the background. 

Makandi Tea Estate has changed hands a few times over the last few years. The current owners are Dhunseri, an Indian conglomerate with two estates in Malawi and a several more in India. 

Akhil and Satinder are part of the management team at Chisunga. This is a highly productive factory. In, fact it's one of the largest black tea producers in the world. 

Finn Merrill and the management team at Makandi - Akhil and Satinder.

Finn Merrill and the management team at Makandi - Akhil and Satinder.

Tea Factories

Tea Factories

Tea Factories are much more industrial than most people expect. In fact, tea factories are the largest electricity consumers in Malawi - effectively supporting the electrical grid (as spotty as it can be in Malawi). 

Just like any industrial production line, a team of people are needed to keep things running smoothly down the line. Each step relies on the prior one - mistakes early in the line are expensive to fix. 

Just like any industrial production line, a team of people are needed to keep things running smoothly down the line. Each step relies on the prior one - mistakes early in the line are expensive to fix. 

Tea estate managers are farmers and factory managers - it's a heavy responsibility, balancing a labor intensive farm, machinery and factory staff needs, and commercial demands for increasingly specialized products. CTC lines like the one above serve commodity tea markets (what ends up in your bottled iced tea and English Breakfast). 

This guy was putting on a show for camera. Typical Malawian positivity while working hard. 

This guy was putting on a show for camera. Typical Malawian positivity while working hard. 

While some factories focus on CTC commodity grades, others are a bit more flexible, producing orthodox and LTP teas (old school technique). These teas usually have larger leaf sizes and skew toward the specialty market and more complex flavors. Different equipment too.

Some orthodox rollers. These machines make larger tea leaf grades and specialty teas. 

Some orthodox rollers. These machines make larger tea leaf grades and specialty teas. 

Old factories, new gear. This is a new line for ctc green teas. 

New gear for green tea. 

New gear for green tea. 

CTC lines 

CTC lines 

A MINI AFRICAN ROAD TRIP IN THE 'FUN CARGO'

A MINI AFRICAN ROAD TRIP IN THE 'FUN CARGO'


Back in 2013, Nash and I set out on a road trip in the aptly named "Fun Cargo" - effectively a minivan body on a Toyota Camry chassis.

Luxurious, spacious, indestructible... but entirely unfit for most Malawian roads. Despite Fun Cargo's limitations, we covered some serious ground. 

The land of long walks

Malawi is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. Even long stretches between cities are full of people, walking, biking, and keep you on your toes. People put all sorts of things on the back of bicycles - goats, kids, bricks, firewood, baskets with chickens - in this case it's sugarcane.

As a gringo, driving across Malawi reminded me of the America west. Big mountains and lots of distractions.

North to Nkhata Bay

Driving north to Nkhata Bay, you effectively parallel Lake Malawi. One of the most remarkable agriculture projects in Malawi is Ilovo Sugar's Dwangwa Estate. It's ~10km long and you can smell the sugar processing for miles. 

 

Boat Building

Along we the way, we stopped in a fishing village to check out our friend's fishing operation. These gents were building a new fishing skiff. These boats were very sturdy craft, and often fitted out with a salvaged car engine for propulsion. Sailing isn't a big thing on Lake Malawi - paddle and engine power are. 

Most non-commercial fisherman still use dug-out canoes like these. And often they work as a group using drag nets and lanterns to attract fish. 

Fishing Towns

Malawi's lakeside towns all have a big fish drying set up like this. 

My next trip to Malawi will be shorter, but I will be spending time with my suppliers and touring local youth support organizations.

Stay tuned, and please share and get involved.