We awoke literally at the crack of dawn this morning to a spectacular East African sunrise as we made our way to the tea fields for plucking
Before we left, breakfast was served in our guest house. First, some fresh fruit.
And toast topped with plum jam and honey –
Coffee + Tea
And finally – porridge! This is a traditional Kenyan breakfast staple made with millet. Thomas made it especially for me when I showed such interest in the Kenyan food last night. He added a little butter and sugar and I put in a drizzle of honey. It was divine! Kind of like oat bran meets amaranth?
Then we were off to our tea plucking lesson, which began with a lesson on tea quality. The best quality tea is a bud and 1, 2 or 3 leaves. You do not want broken pieces (oxidation), crispy leaves, hard leaves or stalks. Piece of cake ,right!?
Here are some of the workers who had already begun. The process is so natural. Richard says: “Nothing is added and nothing is taken away.”
I was paired with Cosmas Maritm. He has been at the estate 2 years now and grew up in the town of Kericho.
We chatted for the entirety of our 30 minute plucking session. Cosmas has been married for a year and lives on the estate with his wife and 4 month old daughter named Abel. He likes to play sports in the evenings, especially football. Of course I asked him about foodHe simply “takes tea” before work and has a bowl of porridge for a lunch break. He usually works 8 hour days and has plucked over 70 kilos of tea in one day. I asked him how he likes it and he said “It’s good wages.” I could tell he was appreciative of the opportunity to work. The workers average 35-45 kilos of tea a day for a wage of about $.10 a kilo. They are 40% female and must be 18 to work.
The plucking was simple but still challenging to do at a good speed. And my back hurt after 5 minutes! Cosmas said you get used to it and the more you do it the easier it gets.
We plucked 2.5 kilos in 30 minutes (keep in mind that’s 1/20th of a normal workday!
I think Cosmas was a little annoyed with me for talking so much and not working harder!
With some of the ladies
After plucking we took a tea bread (of course!)
and headed out to tour more of the estate
Here are some of the eucalyptus trees
They choose eucalyptus for a number of reasons.:
- It accumulates biomass very quickly add matures in a very short time
- It has a high calorific value (it’s good fuel)
- It’s very lightweight and easy to split and cut
- In just 24 years, you can get 5 tall trees out of just one tiny seed and basically no maintenance
Some environmentalists say that eucalyptus depletes the soil and neighboring plants of water, but there is so much rainfall here (2m a year) that there’s no problem. Just across the street was a swamp, a forest and a tea field. The estate is also testing bamboo as an alternative fuel source with high hopes.
I was getting really hungry and thankfully British cookies were right around the corner! I love how they are almost like cookie crackers.
Then it was on to one of the tea drying and packaging factories.
I’ll leave you with a photo recap of the process start to finish. The aroma was unbelievable – strong, strong tea bag smell!
To the tasting room!
We moved on to a lesson in tea breeding. Very cool!
Here are some of the houses on the estate.
A huge vegetable garden behind one of the villages on the estate. This is sukumawiki, which means “to get you through the end of the week.” The people eat maize (ugali), vegetables, and raise chickens and there are butchers in each of the village.
They are simple and clean. I didn’t realize how nice they were until we ventured off of the estate and saw some of the surrounding communities.
We drove to one of the dams to learn about hydroelectric power. All of the managers were so pleasant and gave excellent presentations! They all welcomed us enthusiastically and every presentation ended with a “Thank you” page.
Children just out of school! They were so friendly too and we loved exchanging waves with everyone we passed this week.
Next came a late lunch at the Monkey Sanctuary!!
I don’t know who was hungrier: the monkey or me!!
The sanctuary also had a stone mill for the estate residents to grind corn for ugali if the ever need to use it.
We had lunch in a grass roof gazebo.
I started with a bowl of Potato + Leek Soup
Along with a panini-style sandwich filled with vegetable cream cheesy spread (loved it!), a veggie sambusa (which I called an empanadas by accident last night), half a hot dog, and a Scotch egg.
What is a Scotch egg? An egg rolled in ketchupy flavors and deep fried. It was very strange, but good!
I took a banana to have for later!
After lunch we headed to a smallholder farm that was about a 40 minute drive away. It was BUMPY and extremely dusty with the windows open. We saw lots of the countryside on the drive, including many small towns, people and hills.
We arrived at the home of Simon and Esther Langat and their daughter Faith.
Here we heard a talk by some of the smallholder tea farmers who are becoming Rainforest Alliance certified. There are about 30 farms that have joined together and share 4 tea factories.
It started to rain and we were invited into their home
I had the privilege of seeing Esther’s kitchen!
Her dishwasher and stove, which she keeps warm with firewood
(Yes, she’s holding an onion!)
Esther Eats Real Food!
- Breakfast, 7am: Tea, sweet potatoes, chapatis (naan)
- Lunch, 12:30-1pm: Rice, fruit, vegetables from the garden, beans, sometimes meat, sometimes milk. Esther feeds her workers too. Lunch is the biggest meal
- Supper, 8pm: Fruit, chapati, millet, beans
- Snacks: She sometimes makes potato chips!
I asked her if she ever ate sweets and she laughed and said “Rarely” because they are discouraged!
Esther has no refrigerator and when mealtime comes she picks vegetables right from her garden to cook:
Here she is with gords where she stores milk and millet
After our 45 minute ride back we had a little time before dinner to freshen up. I took the opportunity to do yoga with the sun. I just laid down a towel and had YogaDownload on my iPod.
Dinner + Dance
We all gathered with the managers of the estate for a farewell party complete with Kenyan cuisine and entertainment, including the Chebown dancers who made a grand entrance. The group is a group of tea pluckers that get together weekly to sing and dance, and the company supplies their costumes for performances.
We were each pulled out, dressed and handed a stick for dancing
I retrieved a Tusker from the bar – it’s my new favorite beer!
I only got to finish half of my Tusker before a few bugs drank the rest while I danced! Later on a tried the Tusker Malt. Here’s me with John Mutua, an innovations process technologist at the estate. He wanted to be on the blog!
Dinner was a grand spread of local foods, including grilled goat, which is served at celebrations and holidays.
I filled my plate with a little of everything.
There were three different kinds of greens: Isoik, Isagek, and Young Pumpkin Greens.
These greens are served everywhere. If you had told me they were made from tea I would have believed you. They were very bitter but had a sweet aroma just like tea! Coincidence? I liked the pumpkin greens the best because they were more savory like spinach.
Ugali! Don’t tell on me, but I added a bit of salt and it tasted like a corn tortilla chip dough! I recommend a pinch of salt if you ever try it 😉
A Coconut Crusted Fish
And some Red WIne Braised Beef over Rice (which was delicious)
And I was poured a glass of wine
75% was eaten 🙂
Dessert was French flan topped with fruit. It was kind of like the fruit tarts we have at home – with a really, really good crust! I also had more passion fruit and a piece of mango.
Here I am with Richard Fairburn, managing director, and Michiel Leijnse, Lipton’s Global Marketing Manager. (Thank you for the wonderful trip!!)
The dancing was so much fun!!! (Video to come!)
Day 6: Continents Unite
We had another early ride (5:30am!) after our late night out to get started early in preparation for our drive back to Nairobi.
Thomas made me another bowl of his famous millet porridge and this time I KERFed it up with banana, nuts and Barney Butter!
Barney, meet Uji
I also ate some fruit and passion fruit juice (not all of this though)
And instant coffee
After breakfast we began our eco project of planting trees. Everyone who visits the estate must plant a proportional number of trees to offset their individual carbon emission based on calculations using an emission calculator.. The trees are all indigenous because many of them are rare and endangered.
Since we all traveled very far to get here, there were quite a lot of trees to plant!
I traveled roughly 25,000 km and used nearly 10,000 CO2 🙁 I had to plant 7 trees!
- Meru Oak
- Lemon Tree
- Waterberry #2
- African satinwood
We said goodbye over one final cup of tea
I have to agree with the reports of others that the Kenyan people are so friendly. Always smiling, waving, welcoming. I was so nervous to fly to Africa alone on 3 weeks notice that I almost turned it down. Now not only am I thrilled that I came, but I don’t want to leave! I definitely think I will come home with a of me changed forever.