What about paying for a kilo of white tea at Sh7,000 or the same quantity of purple tea for Sh2,000? Well, this sounds absurd but there is a niche market that is willing to pay any price to get these specialty teas.
For most Kenyans, tea is just that beverage that you take daily, perhaps twice or thrice a day largely because it is a habit that they are accustomed to. And so for them, black tea which costs as low as Sh200 a kilo, is all they need.
However, there is a group of tea drinkers who are very specific to the type of beverage that they take. For them, it is about preference, and it is because of these choices, that it costs slightly higher to put that cup on the table.
Specialty and orthodox teas are known for their antioxidant qualities, which comes with some health benefits, which include fighting cancer, lowering of weight hair loss, and reduce the risk of a heart attack.
Specialty teas are one of the most expensive beverages the world over and the cost is tied to the tedious process involved in making it and the available quantities, which remain limited.
White tea is one of the specialty teas and its “special” nature comes from the hairy tea bushes.
“The pricing of this tea is higher because of the process and time involved in separating the buds from the leaves,” said Wilson Waithaka, production assistant at the Kangaita Tea Factory that is managed by Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA).
Farmers pluck this tea normally- two leaves and a bud, which is a normal procedure not only for this type but also for the rest including the black CTC type.
At the factory, workers will painstakingly remove the bud and separate it from the leaves. The buds are then sundried, a process that can take two to three days.
This type of tea is strictly made on orders on a first-come-first-served basis with the majority of the market being overseas or expatriates working in Kenya.
It is a tedious process to come up with white tea and this is what informs its expensive nature. For instance, it would take a day to make a kilo of this type of beverage.
“If a customer orders like 20 kilos, it will take us about 20 days to make it for them,” he said.
After drying the tips on the sun, the tea is taken the way it is, by adding the dried tips in hot water. It does not undergo any further processing.
On the other hand, purple orthodox tea is picked from a purple bush on the farm and it is rolled as a whole tea leaf into different sizes. Unlike the commonly known black CTC employs crush, tear and curl process to produce granular particles.
In Muranga County, Gatanga Industries has emerged as one of the largest cottage industries that purely deals in specialty teas.
The firm specialises on other purple tea though they have a range of other specialty products such as white beverages.
Elizabeth Njeri, the factory manager says their product is way below the orders that they get from their customers, mainly in China.
The firm makes four tonnes of tea every day and it has its plantation of 30 acres, which supplies them with the purple leaves. The company has also 70 farmers who supply them with the raw material.
KTDA has 12 factories that are currently making orthodox tea and it wants to roll out the processing of this type of beverage to all the factories.
The agency has been producing close to five million kilogrammes from the factories where the special processing lines for this tea have been installed.
Kenya is the only nation in the world that produces purple tea, but the country is yet to tap its full potential even with the ready market.