Time for a nice cuppa in Kericho I hope…!
Poor old Simba broke down again, so we sat outside at Ziwa Bush Lodge sunning ourselves for two hours until it fired up again. It was a few hours drive to the Kericho tea region, which has over 1000km of tea plantations, as far as the eye can see.
We set up camp in the back garden of Ray’s Place, the smell of fresh cut grass on the air in the hot afternoon sun. It was so lovely it seemed criminal to blight the landscape with khaki tents!
Some of us went to the Toror Tea Factory a short distance away, and were shown around by the Ops Manager. He was very busy and in a hurry, so we had a short 20 minute tour of the facilities then sat in the conference room for an hour and a half, before being picked up by our driver who had got stuck in traffic!
It was such a shame the truck broke in the morning because we missed the main tour group which we were supposed to be part of, which would have included a longer more descriptive tour, tea tasting, a thorough tour of the plantations and the chance to buy some fabulous tea! Six of us plus the driver and friend squeezed into one estate car on the way back which was both hilarious and uncomfortable!
The driver explained a little more about the tea plantations as we drove and we hopped out just before Ray’s Place, straight into a field of tea plants.
The main economic activity for over 100 years, the tea business in the region employs over 40k people. Workers are expected to pick 34 kilos a day, for 6 days a week. They work 8 hours a day from 7am in the boiling heat for 10 Kenyan shillings per kilo, but are at least given accommodation with the job.
At 2100m elevation, with sun in the morning and rain in the afternoon, the climate is ideal for growing and harvesting tea.
Tea plants can grow to up to 25m high but they keep them at hip height to prevent injuries deriving from having to bend over or reach up to pick. The light leaves at the top are the ones ready for picking, usually every 14 days. Groups of 200-300 people are on the field picking together, but no children are allowed to work in the tea fields in case they get lost in the mass of plants. They wear slippery, heavy canvas overcoats to protect their clothes, which would be ripped to shreds otherwise as they stand amongst the tea plants.
Tea can be hand or mechanically picked and their fields are divided by method. Mechanical picking yields 7 times the quantity in the same time, but hand picking produces grade 1 quality tea which there will always be a demand for.
Green and black tea originate from same plant, but there is no fermentation when producing green tea. We were told the best tea is loose tea leaves – for the best cuppa add milk, sugar and tea leaves before water and straining.
Ok so the tour may not have been worth $15 but at least we got out and about!