This herb-infused warm drink is the steaming life line of many cultures all over the world. Tea plays a myriad of roles; a healing drink for the sick, a warming hug in the cold, a way to cool yourself in the hottest climates, a mindful ritual or a quick caffeine boost. Tea is a symbolically powerful drink that connects communities across land and sea. Tea has an all-encompassing position in people’s lives, cultures, and stories making it the perfect souvenir and exclamation of love.
The journey of Tea
Known across the world under similar names, Tea, Cha, Chai, and Shay, the journey of tea is stitched into the very etymology of the word. Cha and Chai reflect the journies of tea overland across China, Central Asia and Persia. Whereas the word Tea, highlights the journey of the drink over the sea.
Tea in East Africa
Whilst, North Africa has Mint tea, South Africa is known for its Roiboss red bush infusions, East African countries have adopted variations of black tea, milk and infusions of spices, sometimes adding ginger for the Swahili Tangawizi Chai. Green Tea is also a savoured option.
The history of Tea growing in East Africa was a product of the globalisation processes that occurred with colonial encounters. Although, the prominence of tea in social life only arose in the 19th century, British East African colonies saw a transformation of their agricultural land to satisfy the thirst for tea. After, an astounding success of growing tea cuttings, the CTC technique (cut, tear, curl) allowed for smaller particles but equally strong flavours, perfect for tea bags. In Kenya, Assam tea cuttings grew well due to the climate and altitude and to this day, the UK imports 50% of its tea from the Rift Valley province.
Tea as a fair trade initiative
Tea is not only a social tool, but a highly politicised crop; in the post-independent era Tanzania and Uganda nationalised their tea factories and tea estates leading to consequences for their country’s tea industry growth. It was not until recently, that attempts to privatise and bring in investments ensured this crop’s future success.
In this readjustment, a focus on sustainability and climate concerns has been adopted into the agricultural practices of both big farms and smaller generational farmers. The fairtrade certification aims to ensure fair pay and work to life treatment to tea farmers and workers regardless of circumstance. This initiative aims to look at the whole life of the labourers and ensure that their quality of work does not affect their health or happiness, ensuring that freshly-plucked tea leaf that ends up in our mug across the world, is not steeped in injustice.