Growing all the time

Growing all the time

February 2018 Update - This is the amazing part about Malawi. A very little bit goes a long, long way.

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