The Warm Heart of Africa
By Ranjit Dasgupta
High in the Mulanji Mountains, a group of 9,000 smallholders, organized as the Sukambizi Association Trust, are working to improve the quality and productivity of their tea farms.
There is a growing interest, no, not an interest, but rather excitement, to learn how to hand-produce green, white, and jasmine teas.
Malawi grew its first tea plant in 1876 when a Scottish gardener at the Blantyre Mission Hospital planted it in a hedge. The seeds came from the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh… so the story goes. Most of the tea grown here today is cut-tea-curl (CTC) for the commercial market, with just one estate, Satemwa, making a small volume of specialty teas.
The small farms up in these majestic mountains, close to the low clouds and mist, are planted with the latest clonals; their journey awaits.
This is a tea journey, unique to Africa, a journey that has just begun.
The first finished teas were produced in September and October and I documented the work of these smallholders. Let me be the first to introduce you to the farmers and to taste the first cups of Mulanji Mountain Tea, from the warm heart of Africa, Malawi.
Editor’s Note: Ranjit is one of three dozen tea growers, academics, brokers, government officials and traders who report annually on the global tea harvest for Tea Journey magazine.
I was born in 1945, in Calcutta, of a Bengali father who served in the air force during World War II. My Armenian mother nursed my father in the hospital where he recuperated from war wounds. I grew up in the tea estates of West Bengal. I was schooled in Darjeeling and found employment in tea in Assam, with the Assam Company, where I worked for 23 years. Later, I joined Jay Shree Tea & Industries at its Calcutta headquarters for another 10 years before moving to Vietnam with the Belgium Company SIPEF, where I helped establish the Phu Ben Tea Company. After 10 years in Vietnam, I joined Harris Freeman, the largest private label packer in North America, where I currently work.
I spend most of my time working with smallholders in Malawi and Tanzania. In the DNA of Harris Freeman is the requirement to “give back” to smallholders around the world, from whom we source teas, through commercial estates. The tea is grown in nurseries and we then train farmers, provide classrooms, and install solar energy initiatives to provide a better quality of life.
That is my life’s work; it’s exciting and fulfilling. I married my college sweetheart and we have two wonderful daughters and two amazing grandchildren. Write me at: email@example.com