Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Busy Day in Mombasa!

On July 18th we visited the Venus Tea Traders. Like all Kenyan brokers, the Venus Tea Traders are the links between the producers and the exporters. 50-85% of the tea crop in Kenya goes through the auction system in Mombasa. Weeks before the auction, samples of each lot of tea are distributed to potential buyers. Then on auction day (which happens twice per week), buyers make bids on lots in increments of $.02 USD per kilogram. In addition to auctioning off massive amounts of tea, the brokers also do market analysis for the producers and make recommendations for production. Different markets value different aspects of tea; some are very focused on the appearance of the tea (the darker the better!) while others are concerned with the final taste of the brew. We also spoke with manager John Mbugua about the efforts to market tea to the youth in Kenya, and how to most Kenyans, tea is inextricably linked to milk; they are almost always taken together.

After that, we stopped by the Cargill warehousing operation in Mombasa. Because the producers do not have their own warehouses near the auction, Cargill provides this space for them. But it's not just Kenyan tea - the warehouses keep tea from all over east Africa. Once Cargill receives the orders from the auctions, they release the tea to the appropriate buyer. Their eight warehouses in Mombasa can store up to 200,000 packages of tea, each weighing around 60 kilograms!

Finally we visited Gold Crown / Global Tea, a collection of three companies that buy, package, and export tea. Furthermore, they are also responsible for blending their share of the tea that gets exported. I was very impressed by the collection of flavored teas that they've created - just one part of their value addition activities. This creates a higher return for the farmer, something that everyone wants!

A tasting cup of green tea in the tasting room of one of Finlay's CTC factories:

Because of the high altitude (around 2100 meters above sea level), a thick fog hovers over the tea fields at Kangaita on the day we visited:

The withering process at the KTDA Imenti factory. Air is blown through these troughs, removing some of the moisture from the green leaf before it enters the CTC process:

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