Heritage

Why tea is the new coffee for young, urban Kenyans

tea

High tea set up at the Crowne Plaza. PHOTO | COURTESY

Tea is trendy. Yes, the traditional drink long served in enamel cups and drank with more than a healthy dose of milk and sugar is catching on with the city’s millenials.

It may not be in these same mabati cups or in its “true” form, but tea time has become a hoity totty affair with breakfast and afternoon meetings being held over several variations of the beverage.

Every weekend, conspicuously on the shelves and aisles of supermarket is Hangover Tea, a product of a tea processor in Kenya. The variation sits right next to the pink box of Love tea, which was prominently displayed on Valentine’s day.

The varieties are not limited to the blends, but also go as far as the preparation. Restaurants are offering iced teas and some have gone as far as to include teappuccino or chaippuccino, chai latte and even chai mocha on the menu.

These combinations are being targeted at a younger, more playful generation than that which is usually associated with tea drinking.

“The urban young generation is looking for diversity when it comes to tea. You find brands like Kericho Gold coming in with options like Hangover Tea targeted at this segment,” says Mark Muita, sales manager at Artcaffe.

Growth in consumption

According to Mr Muita, Kenyans still do not consume as much tea as we export, but that has not hindered the local market from witnessing steady growth in consumption over the past two or so years.

“Increase in (interest and tea varieties) is there due to personal interest and health issues,” says Shailender Singh, Food and Beverage Director, Sarova Hotels.

“Black tea, which is produced in Kenya is the most popular type. There is an increased consumption of flavoured teas. Green Tea is also gaining in popularity due to the significant health benefits associated with it,” adds Guillaume Durand, Group Director Sales & Marketing for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, Kenya.

Tea, according to research firm Consumer Insight, sits under the everyday consumption category in the hot beverage segments while green tea and coffee fall under “special occasion” drinks.

The flavoured tea and infusion market was previously dominated by imports from Twinings, Heath and Heather and London Fruit and Herb, which are now getting stiff competition on supermarket shelves by local products from Gold Crown Beverages (Kericho Gold), Ketepa and Melvin Marsh.

Kenya Tea Packers (Ketepa) expanded its range of tea offerings to include cinnamon, forest fruit, pineapple, earl grey, mango, mint, jasmine, orange, strawberry and caramel in addition to ginger, masala and lemon tea which were previously available.

The push for a healthier living has been driving demand for herbal infusions, green tea, purple tea and a skimmed milk version of black tea.

“This is a nation of tea drinkers and demand is growing at a healthy clip because most customers have gone to the use of skimmed milk as opposed to whole milk,” says Singh.

Green tea does not undergo much processing between farm and cup. The antioxidant rich tea has been said to help prevent heart-related health issues like high blood pressure. The catechins in the green tea have also been said to lower cholesterol and blood sugar.

Purple tea, a new popular variant being grown locally, contains a higher percentage of polyphenols as compared to green and black tea. Polyphenols are naturally occurring antioxidants that are thought to help protect against cardiovascular diseases.

Black tea, which is also rich in antioxidants, is available in infused variations with herbs and spices such as mint, chamomile, cardamom as well as fruit variations including strawberry, lemon and orange. The combination of the herbs offers additional health benefits to the tea drinkers.

“Some of the tea varieties, for example Sweet camomile, also have medicinal value,” says Chef Cosmas Kituku.

Chamomile and mint have soothing effects and are also used for settling upset stomachs and nerves.

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High tea set up at the Crowne Plaza (left) and Kericho Gold's Hangover Tea on a supermarket shelf (right). PHOTOS | COURTESY

Kenyan tea still popular

Even with the health benefits of multiple tea variations, at the Sarova Panafric, the most popular tea remains the traditional Kenyan mixed tea. Similarly, Kituku, who is Crowne Plaza Nairobi executive chef, says most of their clients go for pure Kenyan tea.

“Clients mostly prefer their tea with milk and sugar,” says Kituku.

“Most of our guests prefer their tea with a splash of milk either hot or cold. The tea is served mixed or black tea with milk separate,” says Durand of Fairmont Hotels.

Afternoon tea and high tea have become regular items on hotel menus. Afternoon tea is an English tradition where tea is served at 4 p.m. with a plate of sandwiches, scones and cake.

High tea, pretty similar to afternoon tea, is differentiated by the setup. It is served at a table with high back dining seats.

“As you know as per tradition, high tea is based on having a 4 pm snack which is composed of a hot drink mainly tea and a mix of savoury and sweet bites, including strawberry tart – one of the most popular items that featured on the high menu at The Norfolk through the years. Tea being our national beverage of choice in Kenya, it is the preferred option,” explains Durand.

He notes that there has been increased demand for high tea as it is a perfect occasion for a get together with friends and family.

“Another reason for growth of interest in high tea,” says Singh (Sarova), “is that Kenyans tend to prefer such events as there is no alcohol consumption which is an unhealthy option for guests.”

“The most popular times for tea are between 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.” says Singh.

Coffee houses such as Artcaffe have seen an increase in the number of walk- in clients looking to have a cup of tea, usually an iced tea or an infusion, which are considered “cool” and trendy, especially by younger patrons.