Tea Production in Zimbabwe

One of the less well known tea producing nations is the landlocked country of Zimbabwe in Africa. Its tea has a full flavour and brews a reddish coloured liquor and are mostly blended with other origin teas for tea bagging purposes. The UK and South Africa are the principle markets for Zimbabwean tea and is popular with the large packers due to its consistent quality and reliability of supply. The whole of its production is in the form of black tea.

The first tea was planted in the 1920s from seeds taken from Assam on an estate known as New Years Gift near the border with Mozambique. Although the tea plants thrived and produced good quality tea, commercial tea growing didn’t become a major concern until the 1960s. Originally tea manufacture was orthodox but today all tea is produced using the CTC or Rotorvane method. There are currently seven factories owned by four separate companies.

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Tea estate in the Chipinge District, part of the Tanganda Tea Company

The centre of tea growing in Zimbabwe is the Eastern Highlands around the beautiful Honde Valley near Mount Inyangani together with the Chipinge District some 150 miles south. This part of the country receives the most rainfall. Annual rainfall however supplies only 50% of the water required for tea production. Stored water in the form of dams and groundwater enables tea producers to supplement the annual rainfall by irrigating the tea estates. Since most of the country is too arid for tea production, the annual production of tea is much smaller than Kenya, Assam and Sri lanka and stands at approximately 16 million kg of black tea per year.

Like in Assam and Kenya, tea is also grown on small plots of land by smallholder farmers who sell their freshly-plucked green leaf to plantations or tea factories for processing into black tea.

Most tea in Zimbabwe is grown in the warmer months of November until June. It is during this time that most of the rainfall occurs. From July to October it is very dry and cold and very little tea is produced. 

The first image shows a tea estate in the Chipinge District owned by the Tanganda Tea Company, the largest producer in Zimbabwe. Most of the tea planted on Tanganda Teas estates are the seedling variety. However, in recent years the Tanganda Tea Company has planted the latest clonal varieties on its estates as they improve quality and yields. Tea bushes can take up to seven years to reach maturity and optimum yields. Some varieties of clonal can achieve this in less time.

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The Hand Plucking method of picking leaves produces the best quality tea.

The Hand Plucking method  of picking leaves produces the best quality tea. Only the top two leaves and a bud is plucked.  A single plucker can average 70 kgs in a day, depending on the “flush” growth. Over the last decade, the availability of seasonal pluckers has proved to be a problem and has resulted in some estates carrying out mechanical plucking.