When you hear Malawi in the news, it’s usually to describe the impoverishment of its citizens recovering from an intense 100 years of colonization and dictatorship, cover a high profile adoption by Madonna, or celebrate educational efforts by people like Roger Federer. So…
…you probably don’t think “tea” when you hear the words Malawi or Africa.
Maybe you should.
A bit about Malawi’s terrain
A landlocked nation situated in the southeast region of Africa, Malawi is known as “the warm heart of Africa.” It’s bordered by Zambia to the west, Tanzania to the north, and Mozambique to the south.
Terrain ranging from one of the highest peaks in Africa to great valleys dot Malawi, but its most impressive feature is Lake Malawi, which is the 9th largest lake in the world.
The largest river in Malawi, the Shire (pronounced Shiri) River, flows from Lake Malawi and south through Mozambique. The Shire River flows through one of the largest tea regions in Africa – Thyolo.
A smidge of history
Before colonization by the British Empire in 1891, Malawi was famous for its weaving industry; local weavers used cotton grown locally. When the British Empire entered the picture, the local cotton was exported to the United Kingdom.
Tea is now the major export; 90% of Malawi’s tea is exported to the U.K. and South Africa. It’s the second largest tea exporter in Africa after Kenya.
How do Malawians sip their tea?
The tea that stays in country is like the tea sipped in other places in Africa and the Middle East – crush tear curl or CTC. It’s the small ground granules of tea leaves you’ll find in many tea bags. Malawians load up their locally manufactured black tea with large amounts of sugar as is done in other nearby regions.
The tea leaves produced in Malawi range from the highest quality whole leaf teas to the poorest quality CTC.
Although Malawians drink exclusively black tea, the tea growers are experimenting with creating quality greens, oolongs, and whites as well.
If you’re adventurous, try the 14 Day Tea Tour. You can sample teas from all over the world, including Malawi, here.
What’s the local tea industry doing for Malawians?
Unpredictable weather isn’t ideal condition to grow tea (the country is prone to flash floods and droughts depending on the year), but the mist surrounding the peaks of the Shire Highlands, the high temperatures during the day, and the cool nighttime temperatures help tea grow and creates more complex flavors in the leaves.
Satemwa Estates grows tea in the Shire Highlands under these conditions in Thyolo, Malawi.
It’s a third generation family owned tea estate that’s grown into a large producer since the 1920s when it was founded by a Scottish proprietor.
Given the poor health conditions of the country’s people overall (it has a high infant mortality rate that has been improving slowly), Malawi needs help. Tea estates like Satemwa have clinics and primary schools as well as policing programs improving the lives of their workers.
They’re Rainforest Alliance Certified; Satemwa works to protect the nearby forests and wildlife that are becoming tourist attractions as the wildlife returns after being over-hunted and poached in the 1970s.
This attention to the workers and their families is one of the reasons Sicilian Tea Company curates tea from this particular estate through Tealet who sells direct trade tea.
Additionally, two actions Satemwa takes is using with sustainable wood to conserve the firewood used to dry the leaves they’re picking and developing solar energy programs to power equipment used in processing the leaves.
Malawi is slowly coming out of its troubled history, and Satemwa is one of the places helping it become more prosperous.
Want to take a sip of what Malawi has to offer?