Africa is a continent bursting with life, rich history and culture. It is a land of variety, as exemplified by the diverse array of languages, art, music and cuisine that exists within its vast borders. But with such diversity, how can one go about experiencing the multitude of cultures and flavours available in Africa? How about a fusion of both tradition and culture, metaphorically expressed in the form of a simple cup of tea!
Since the turn of the 20th century, tea consumption has become a tradition synonymous with the everyday lifestyle of several Africans nations. From the furthest point north-west of the Sahara desert, to the shores of the Indian Ocean, all the way to the Western Cape of South Africa, unique types and blends of tea are both consumed and cultivated.
Mass cultivation of tea in Africa began in Southern Africa around the 1880s. British settlers first cultivated tea in Malawi and then in Eastern Africa roughly two decades later. Though both the introduction of tea and it’s cultivation on African soil was facilitated by the British colonists settling in Africa, as time passed, the types of tea cultivated became more reflective of the African region it was cultivated in. Several types of tea, green, black, oolong, white etc., are grown in Africa. Over time, specific kinds of teas were preferentially grown in certain regions of Africa. Black tea is a favourite in East Africa due to its vibrantly fresh and floral but citrus-y hints. In Northern Africa and some parts of West Africa, green tea is favoured and is often paired with mint to complement the tea’s bittersweet but fruity flavours.
As a result of preference, tea grown and consumed in Africa became reflective of both the natural geography and fertility of each region, as well as the gustatory/flavour profiles of each region. Spices/herbs were used in the brewing of various teas such as seen in Moroccan mint tea or tea in East Africa which may contain milk as well as spices like ginger, cinnamon and cardamom. In South Africa Rooibos tea is beloved, though Rooibos tea itself is more an herbal infusion rather than a conventional tea.
With its increased cultivation on the continent, consumption of tea has become part of the daily lifestyle for millions across the continent: 30% of tea produced in the world is produced in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe, indicating tea’s value as a cash crop in the African continent.The further immersion of tea in African culture was as a result of its versatility. In its many forms, tea became a vibrant but refreshing start to the day, the perfect accompaniment at breakfast, the highlight of afternoon tea or a refreshment before a good night’s rest. Its quality as an invigorating/refreshing beverage meant that over time, serving tea also became ingrained in African customs as an act of hospitality shown to guests or weary travellers.
Who knew that something as simple as a cup of tea could be reflective of a continent so diverse in its essence and culture. So, the next time you brew yourself a cup of tea, we challenge you to reflect on the taste and try to determine its source, based on its flavour.
Brew yourself a cup and enjoy!
Till next time,