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The first Kenyan teas were planted in 1903 from tea seedlings originating in India. It is currently one of the major tea producing countries of the world with production exceeding 240,000 tonnes a year.
Tea production is split between smallholders and large estates operated by companies such as Brooke Bond, African Highlands (formerly James Finlay) and Eastern Produce Limited. The large plantations are organized under the Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) and account for about 40% of the Kenyan tea production.
The smallholders are organized under the Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA) which was set up in 1964. The KTDA operates its own tea factories and buys tea from the smallholders who produce more than 60% of Kenyan tea.
Because of its equatorial location, Kenya can produce tea year round with minimal seasonal variations in the quality of the tea. Tea is picked every 17 days and the best Kenyan tea is picked in February and March.
Tea is grown at elevations between 5000 and 7000 feet. The tea estates are situated near the equator westwards from Mount Kenya.
The best teas are grown in the Regati region of eastern Kenya. The older estates of Nandi and Kericho, however, are situated in the Great Rift Valley in western Kenya.
Kenyan tea is mostly black tea used primarily for blending. Most Kenyan tea is processed by the CTC (Cut, Tear, and Curl) method and comes in three main grades – Broken Pekoe, Pekoe Fannings, and Pekoe Dusts. Most Kenyan tea is used for tea bags, with a small proportion available as loose Leaf tea. It has a strong flavor and reddish color.