Without venturing beyond a 50-mile radius of my home, I have enjoyed a week rich in cultural (or is that culinary?) experiences. First, there was the discovery that at least a couple of decent German restaurants existed within Los Angeles County – one just a few miles from my house, in the form of Chalet Edelweiss! Then, a good friend recommended the Taiwanese Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in Arcadia – the near-perfect melding of mouth-watering food, attentive service, and clockwork organization. Yesterday, it was time to set foot on yet another continent – this time Africa – by spending the morning savoring a variety of Kenyan teas. Before my visit in June to the World Tea Expo, I thought that the phrase “a variety of Kenyan teas” was an oxymoron. Now I know better in a big way.
My favorite discovery among the Kenyan tea companies present at the World Tea Expo was Royal Tea of Kenya. Prior to meeting Joy W’Njuguna and her staff, I considered Kenyan tea synonymous with CTC black tea – that is, not much better than the dustings found in a Lipton tea bag. I was delighted to be proven wrong. Kenyan green tea? Kenyan white tea? Even a rare purple tea? Who knew?!
Before I take you on a tour of some of the best teas Kenya has to offer – all courtesy of Royal Tea of Kenya – let me begin with a couple of disclaimers:
- I am not – by any stretch of the imagination – a experienced tea taster. Yes, I have sampled a lot of teas, but I have no formal training in tea tasting and have not acquired the appropriate lexicon to describe teas the way the pros do.
- On the morning of my tea tasting, I was battling allergies. Therefore, my senses of smell and taste were a bit impaired.
So please keep these in mind as you read my notes.
Kenyan Black Teas
The three black teas I sampled were labeled simply Black Orthodox 1, Black Orthodox 2, and Black Orthodox 3. My favorite of the three was the whole-leaf Black Orthodox 2, with long, slightly twisted, charcoal brown leaves. In its dry form, the tea had a somewhat vegetal smell, not at all strong, like some black teas. It reminded me a bit of the smell of old, well-cared-for books, a smell I find very appealing. Once steeped, however, it took on a much different, but equally satisfying, character. Its deep amber liquor delivered a prominent artichoke taste, much stronger and more distinct that its smell foreshadowed, and with very little astringency. I am partial to black tea, so I was pleased to find one that could easily become a daily afternoon habit.
As with all three of the black teas I tried, I prepared my favorite by boiling freshly drawn, filtered water, letting it sit for two minutes and then steeping it for two minutes, one teaspoon of tea per cup of water.
Kenyan Green Teas
The two green teas I sampled were labeled Green Orthodox 1 and Green Orthodox 2. My favorite of the two was the Green Orthodox 2, with stubby, irregular, dark brown leaves with just a hint of forest green. In its dry form, the tea had a woodsy smell, with a spicy kick. Once steeped, however, this pale yellow tea offered a sweet, almost caramel-like flavor with more astringency than the black teas. I have been enjoying more green teas lately, particularly Japanese senchas. I am not sure I am ready to give up my morning sencha habit just yet, but this Kenyan green could be a contender to start the day.
As with both of the green teas I tried, I prepared my favorite by heating freshly drawn, filtered water until steam began to emanate from the kettle, but before the water started to boil. I then poured it directly onto the tea leaves and steeped it for three minutes, one teaspoon of tea per cup of water.
Some Real Surprises
Among the assortment of Kenyan teas I sampled were two wild cards – White Whisper and Purple Afya. White Whisper is a lovely white tea with long, slender, soft, and pale green leaves. In its dry form, a whiff of the leaves evokes the scent of a pine forest. Once steeped, though, this tea’s very pale yellow liquor has a very distinct artichoke smell and flavor – more pronounced than that of my favorite Kenyan black tea. It is a smooth tea that is both crisp and refreshing. I steeped this tea just as I had the green teas.
Purple Afya is a dramatic departure from all the other Kenyan teas I tried. The differences became apparent as soon as I opened the golden package. Purple Afya is a blend that begins with rare Kenyan purple tea, a new variety of the tea plant developed by the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya. To this unique purple tea is added a generous helping of blueberries and currants. The result is a beautiful tea resplendent in purples, pinks, dark greens, and browns. The overwhelming scent is that of blueberries. Purple Afya requires a longer steeping time – I steeped mine for five minutes – but it is well worth the wait. The predominant flavor in this antioxidant-rich cocktail is that of blueberries, but the purple tea is undeniably present as well, lending a pleasing astringency.
Next time you are craving a flavor adventure, discover the world of Kenyan teas.