Unexpected Origins

When we think about tea origins, we traditionally think of China, Japan, and India.

Walking through the rows of booths at the World Tea Expo last June, those were the most largely represented origins. In fact, a large section of the show floor is dedicated every year strictly to Chinese teas. But if you look carefully, you will find a few rare gems among the crowd reflecting some of the lesser-known tea growing regions. Of particular interest to us last year were those growers from Kenya, Portugal, and Hawaii, and we were lucky enough to snag interviews with their representatives. Those interviews have been integrated into our podcasts over the last couple of weeks, and are available now for your listening pleasure.

Allow me to give you a little bit of background information, to help you navigate all of the amazing material. We’ll begin this little journey around the globe in Africa—Kenya, specifically.

Joy Njuguna represents her family’s business, Royal Tea of Kenya. We were introduced to her on the first day of the expo, in a private tea tasting on the second floor. As we crowded around small tables, eagerly tasting their seven unique tea varieties, we were moved by Joy’s beautiful speech. Joy spoke of her family’s history in Kenya, which is tangled in both tea and politics. Her grandfather is the oldest living tea farmer in the world, at 111 years old (perhaps 112, by now). Her father and uncle both fought for the rights of native tea farmers in Kenya, a fight that her uncle gave his life for. This particular expo was Joy’s first, as she introduced the exquisite teas her family has been cultivating for generations to the United States. After hearing Joy speak, we simply had to get her to retell her stories for our audience. Our interview was conducted right on the busy show floor, and can be heard on the episodes “Family, Friends, and Kenyan Tea” and “Tasting Kenyan Teas”.

On the second day of the show, we met David Tavares of Gorreana Tea, a family-run tea garden in Portugal’s Azores Islands. David was also making his first appearance at the World Tea Expo, and like Joy was blossoming into the American representative for his family’s operation. David spent the summers of his youth on the Gorreana estate, personally helping his uncle and cousins to pick and process the delicate tea leaves. Gorreana features wholly organic teas, original processing equipment, and eco-friendly operations. David can be heard describing his experiences on the estate and his family’s unique offerings on the episode “Tea Grown in Europe?”.

It was impossible to stroll the aisles at the tea expo without noticing the fresh, live tea leaves exhibited at the Tea Hawaii & Company booth. Manish remembered seeing these lush leaves before, but this was the first year that he truly digested the idea that tea is grown within the United States. In fact, it is grown very successfully in this tropical region, and the drastic changes in elevation over a relatively small area of land offers great distinction between varieties and growers. Thus, the Hawaiian growers have formed a collective, and all of their wonderfully different teas are available to the public through the same outlet and under the same name. But delicious teas aren’t the only thing that Tea Hawaii & Company has to offer—they also promote a beautiful, uniquely Hawaiian line of ceramic teaware, one-of-a-kind tours of their gardens, and even a line of tea-infused honey wine. Manish had the pleasure of interviewing Eva Lee of Tea Hawaii & Company at the expo, but the audio quality rendered the recording unusable. It turned out to be quite a fortunate mishap, however, as Manish was able to meet and speak with Eva once again to talk about their teas and their distinctive business. His conversation with Eva can be heard on the episodes “Island Hopping—Hawaiian Tea” and “Elevational Varieties: Hawaiian Tea Pt. 2”.

Enjoy this little trip around the globe. We can’t always bring you to origin, but we’ll continue to bring the origin to you. Cheers!

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