How do you take your tea?

As a tea lover in a country ruled by coffee lovers, it was a fun and refreshing visit to Kericho, the jewel city of Kenya's tea growing region. Our project was creating a video about sustainable tea growing as promoted and certified by the Rainforest Alliance.

In Africa if you don't have oil, diamonds or giraffes, the word "exports" doesn't inspire bragging. No wonder the Kenyan tea factory managers we met with were unusually proud of their thriving tea industry, the country's leading export and third largest source of revenue.

The Rainforest Alliance works with Kenyan Tea factories and farmers (as it does elsewhere around the world) to make sure the production of tea is done in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. And I think it's working.

In Kenya, small scale tea farms provide a livelihood for thousands of people. Many of the farmers have formed successful co-operatives to process and sell their green-leaf (freshly picked tea). We got to visit a tea factory where the leaf is transformed into some of the best tea in the world.

Factories are cool to shoot. Ask anyone. It was extra cool to see a factory entirely owned by a collective of small farmers. But it was the trip into the hills to meet these farmers that was really special. We approached one woman of seventy as she nimbly moved through leaves of gorgeous green tea bush. During our interview she told us about her life as a tea farmer, her pride in being a shareholder in the factory and her innate desire to sustain the environment.

As we thanked her, she held onto my hand and blessed me. After all the cups of tea consumed from this woman's blood and sweat, no one had hiked up to ask her a few basic questions about how the tea is actually made. It affirmed our belief that there is no one better to tell the story than those being served. Despite the language barrier, we hope this video can be focused on the image of this woman, the spirit of her words and the knowledge that someone like her picks many leaves for every sip we take.

Today these small farmers comprise most of the tea activity in Kenya. The multi-nationals are quickly challenging that (and a way of life). We hope that the Rainforest Alliance certification these small farmers get will help them stay competitive and most importantly sustain their land and ecosystem for the next generation. As we watched Rainforest Alliance work in the field, it was amazing to realize that they are actually making environmental change possible, not through lobbying or advocacy, but through grass-roots, farmer by farmer training. They plug into the community and seem to create a real common sense, bottom up program for creating a better place for cows, trees and tea bushes. Certifications can often be lip service, but as far as we're concerned the next box of tea we drink will be RA certified.



  1. Souper Sarah
    June 9, 2010

    Hi Erin & Dan,

    I loved the article! What kind of tea leaves do they farm beside the green tea? I'm drying nettle leaves for tea right now! Eric & I went to the woods to pick them with our gloves on. We are having an Herbal Walk in Nature here for the garden club and our teas will be lemon balm and nettle. It will be about learning what's growing in our yard and how to harvest it. We will be making a salad and of course I'm making nettle soup for my blog!

    I hear you will be in Ithaca when you return, so I hope we get to see you.

    Love & Hugs
    G & G Snow

  2. Amos
    June 14, 2010

    Hehe. Glad you found your tea drinking mother ship.

  3. Ape
    June 14, 2010

    As a fellow tea drinker I approve this message!

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