Smallholder Tea Farmers in Kenya

We recently stumbled across an interesting news article in, a Kenyan based online newspaper. The article focused on a mobile network provider, Safricom, partnering with the Kenyan Tea Development Agency Ltd or KTDA, to change the way payments to smallholder tea farmers are handled. Specifically, the arrangement replaces all cash payments with M-PESA. If you haven’t heard of it, M-PESA is a branchless banking system developed by the global mobile network operator Vodaphone. In part, the your mobile network operator and retail outlets become your banking agents. The objective for KTDA is to improve security for employees at the factories who pay or delivered tea leaf as well as increase accountability and overall efficiency in payments and accounting. As it turns out this is but one step in helping support and increase profits for small tea farmers.

Smallholder Tea Plantations

UN Food and Agriculture Organization Logo

The UN FAO reviews the tea trade through its Inter-Governmental Group on Tea

Rather than write about M-PESA this article got us curious about the smallholder tea farmer system in Kenya and the relationship with KTDA. Smallholders, not large corporate plantations, as it turns out are a major source of tea produced in many countries. A 2012 review of smallholder tea farmer contributions by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization indicated that in countries like Sri Lanka, Kenya, China, and Vietnam smallholders produce the majority tea in these countries. This is opposed to countries like Indonesia and India where smallholders produce only about 20-25%.

Smallholder plantations, in theory provide a greater share of the profits to those at a local level, though the UN FAO Intergovernmental Group on Tea study suggests there are quite a number of opportunities for improvement. Smallholders typically have difficulties commanding top prices for a variety of reasons including the lack of knowledge or capability to implement environmental, pest management, or other best practices.

KTDA Ltd and Kenyan Smallholders

Map of Tea Production in Kenya

A Map of Tea Production Areas in Kenya By Philippe Rekacewicz assisted by Cecile Marin, Agnes Stienne, Guilio Frigieri, Riccardo Pravettoni, Laura Margueritte and Marion Lecoquierre CC BY SA-3.0

The Kenyan Tea Development Agency got its start back in 1964 as Kenya got its independence and it became legal for locals to produce tea themselves. At the time the KTDA was charged with helping develop the industry for smallholders vs the large multinational corporations who still own plantations and produce a large percentage of tea in the region (and globally).

More recently, in 2000, KTDA became KTDA Ltd, a private company which continues to develop the smallholder tea industry. This arrangement, is just one approach found globally to supporting smallholders. KTDA Ltd operates effectively as a management firm providing best practices for smallholders in many areas as well as providing services that help smallholders command a greater share of the income. These services include everything from guidance on plucking and fertilizing through operations of factories as well as financial, sales, and marketing support.

In effect, KTDA Ltd helps organize and unite all the smallholder members to be competitive with the large industry players by increasing the portion of revenue earned from higher levels in the value chain. This includes at the manufacture and global wholesale portion of the value chain. It does this by having over 50 subsidiary factory companies to which over 560,000 smallholders both sell raw leaf and own a share of the company and resulting profits after manufacture and sale at the Mombasa Tea Auction.

The Future for Smallholder Tea Farmers

The number of smallholders worldwide looks to continue to grow for some time to come. This happens for many reasons but often its due to large corporate plantation abandonment (and subsequent re-establishment in smallholder schemes) and the purposeful dismantling of large government owned tea plantations. As the smallholder population increases it will be interesting to see how various countries approach supporting farmers in the practices and ownership methods that can help them thrive.

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Matcha Macaroons

After writing the prior blog on tea parties, I started looking at different recipes for cookies that are typically served with tea. Macaroons are mentioned, so I thought it would be fun to use Matcha instead of the green food coloring typically used in Pistachio Macaroons to make Matcha Macaroons. A traditional macaroon always contains nuts, usually almonds or pistachios. I was surprised to find that the matcha and pistachios got along just fine when it came to flavor. I filled these with chocolate buttercream to help soften the green tea taste of the cookies. However, you can make whatever buttercream filing you like to put in the middle of the cookies.

Macaroons made with matcha spread out on a cookie sheet.

Matcha Macaroons before baking.

Matcha Macaroons

1/3 cup pistachios (these can be replaced with almonds)

2 tsps Matcha

3/4 cup powdered suger

2 large egg whites

1 tbs sugar

Chocolate Matcha Buttercream filling

1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature

2oz semisweet chocolate, melted

1 tsp matcha

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cup of powdered sugar


Grind the pistachios, powdered sugar and food processors until the nuts are as fine as the powdered sugar. You may need to stop and scrap the bowl down a couple of times to ensure you got as much of the nut pieces as small as possible. In a metal bowl, whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff and then dust them with the tablespoon of sugar. Then whisk until very stiff peeks forms. Fold into the egg whites the nut mixture about a quarter cup at a time. If the oil from the nuts causes the sugar to clump, just run the mixture through a sifter as you add it to the eggs to separate it. The mixture should be fully incorporated with the egg whites.

Pipe the mixture onto cookie sheets to get round circles. You will need either greased parchment paper or Siltpad in order to keep the cookies from sticking to the baking pan. The goal is to get an even number of cookies that are relatively the same size so we can incorporate the filling. If you do not have a piping bag and tips, just cut the corner off a ziplock bag and use that. They will not be as perfect, but still nicely round. You should get around 24-30 cookies depending on how big you make them. Bake for 8-12 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from oven and allow to cool on tray above a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before handling.

Fresh Macaroons Made with Matcha

Macha Macaroons

To make the filing, using an electric mixer beat the butter until pail and then add in the chocolate followed by the matcha and powdered sugar. The mixture will start to lighten in color and expand in the bowl as the sugar is incorporated. In judging whether to add additional sugar, look at the shininess of the cream and don’t be afraid to stop the blend and take a small taste. The filing needs to stay creamy, hold its form on the spoon (turn the spoon up-side down, if it starts to drop immediately you need more sugar) and not feel grainy on the tongue, which will happen if there is too much sugar added.

The filling can either be spooned onto the bottom of one cookie or piped on with an icing bag if you would like precision. An icing knife or straight edge can clean up the edges for you. Add around 1/2 tablespoon of the filing. Of course you can add more, it just may squeeze out the sides and become a bit messy when you bite in. (My six year old thinks this is one of the better features of this cookie). This will make somewhere around 12-15 cookies.

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Afternoon Tea – History in America and Britain

As an American, my exposure to afternoon tea first came via Alice in Wonderland, when Alice came upon the Mad Hatter and his never ending table of colorful cups, teapots, sugar bowls, creamers and little plates with finger foods. As I got older, my mother would take me to afternoon tea held by her friends, or the entire family to an afternoon tea at a tea shop or hotel when visiting towns like Savannah, Georgia. So what is the history of afternoon tea and why is it that this daily custom for the British never fully made it into American culture?

Afternoon Tea is thought to have been popularized by the Duchess of Bedford

Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Russell (Public Domain)

Afternoon Tea and The Industrial Revolution

So it turns out that afternoon tea became common practice across all classes of the British between 1830-1850. The Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Russell, is widely given credit for bringing afternoon tea to the forefront of the upper classes of Britain. However, it should be noted that during the same period England’s industrial revolution was under way. The change to an industrial economy had the surprising effect of lengthening the time between lunch and dinner as workers where no longer home for dinner at 5 or 6, but much later at 8 in the evening. Both housewives and workers where in need of a mid-afternoon snack and afternoon tea fit that bill. As this custom progressed, there became both low tea and high tea, which got their names from the height of the tables used. Low tea was really the afternoon tea, where guests where seated in lower arm chairs and side tables that where the same height as the arms on the chairs where used to hold the tea and food. High tea refers to tea served at the kitchen or dinning room table, and is now called dinner. High tea was usually practiced by the middle and lower classes and low tea was still reserved for the upper classes.

The rise of afternoon tea in the upper class is written about in great detail in Jane Austen‘s books, which where penned a few decades before the Duchess of Bedford.

History of Afternoon Tea in the United States

Afternoon Tea is still enjoyed around the world.

Modern Afternoon Tea with small sandwiches and food. ( by Flickr user Per Mosseby from Sweden, CC BY-SA-2.0)

The United States was still very much an agrarian economy when England was undergoing its industrial revolution. It wouldn’t be until after the Civil War that afternoon tea became truly popular with the upper class. That is not say that the US didn’t do afternoon tea; there are more than a few cook books, like The American System of Cookery, published in 1847 that lay out instructions for the arrangement of tea. It just wasn’t universally practiced. Women were the ones who took on this custom as they were not allowed in evening dining halls with their husbands. Afternoon tea was gaining popularity in the early 1900′s as seen in the Wall Street Journal, which published a piece on April 18, 1906 called “Wall Street Tea Parties”,where the article outlines J.P. Morgan Jr. taking afternoon tea at 4pm with a few of his fellow bankers. As mentioned in an earlier post on American Tea History, World War I greatly limited access to tea in the United States, turning coffee into the go-to drink for US citizens. However, tea settings and the practice of afternoon tea still remain popular in many upper class circles. As tea became more expensive and harder to get, afternoon tea left the home and came into high end hotels and restaurants as well as tea shops.

There are still cookbooks published to help you serve a proper afternoon tea as well as many local tea shops, restaurants and hotels that will do all the work for you. So if you haven’t sat for afternoon tea, go try it. It is a fun and relaxing way to spend an hour with family and friends.

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Kickstarter Projects with a Tea Theme

A few weeks ago we discovered two great Kickstarter projects for ideas we love; MIITO and Imbue. These projects are to create products for boiling just the right amount of water for your next cup of tea and for the initial production run of a new tea infusing vessel. We’ll admit to jumping in and funding these early without looking around at other related projects or, frankly, reading up on Kickstarter generally. We had success with Bo and Yana (now Dash and Dot from Wonder Workshop) in the past and jumped right in. That said, we are curious and wanted to look a bit more at Kickstarter and tea themed projects.

What is Kickstarter?

There are many tea related projects on kickstarter.

Kickstarter provides a way to match ideas with backers to fund them.

In short, Kickstarter is a platform playing matchmaker between people with ideas (they may or may not be great) and people to would love to see the idea become a success. You may make the mistaken assumption that the platform is for funding new technologies, products, or businesses and these are certainly a large part. However, the platform is also used as a way to fund single events, art installations, books, and more. If you have an idea, want to test the waters, and see if its got legs then Kickstarter is a platform to do just that.

According to their FAQ, the company is only about 110 people and is located in New York City. In exchange for a small percentage of money pledged, the project owner gets an easy way to publicize their idea and collect funds from backers. In order to reduce risk to backers, the company claims to keep an eye out for suspect projects and they use an all or nothing funding model to ensure that if a project doesn’t meet funding goals nobody gets billed.

Kickstarter claims (as of May 31st, 2015) about a 38% success rate of projects successfully receiving funding by their goal date. But do note that not all projects get funded, and even funding is no future guarantee of future products or business (see some of the projects below).

Tea Themed or Inspired Projects

In addition to MIITO and Imbue, which initially got us looking for other tea related projects, we found quite a number of others. Everything from WINKpen, which is a refillable pen for writing with naturally staining liquids (Wine, Tea, etc), to no less than three different tea infusers, to Barons of Tea which is a tea themed board game. We wouldn’t necessarily back all these though we did find some more interesting than others.


Created by Jessica Chan, this unique pen was designed to solve the problem of disposable ink pens allowing the user to fill it with natural “inks”. This glass pen can be filled with wine (the name comes from wine as ink), cranberry juice, tea, or any other substance which naturally stains. Having settled on a design this project is to fund a large manufacturing run allowing the dream to be turned into reality for those who want a unique and environmentally friendly pen to write with.  We would recommend using puerh or a black tea,if you where to fill the pen with tea.


The premise behind HIYA is near instant cold brewed green tea. We love cold brewed tea (green tea or otherwise) and have blogged about it before. What HIYA was promising was essentially a tea bag with (we would imagine) very finely processed green tea. This project promised to bring green tea to those on the go with just a few seconds of shaking a water bottle containing the sealed and staple free tea bag. Despite having successful funding we aren’t quite sure if HIYA is still producing product as its been out of stock since at least November 2014 with limited Twitter or Facebook updates.

Tea Infusers

We found three different tea infuser projects on Kickstarter as of May 2015; VivaBoo, TeaDrop, and DunkFish. These projects all take their own unique spin on the tea infuser with DunkFish and VivaBoo being playful tea ball variations starring fish or platypus designs and offering built-in handles to remove them from water with reduced risk of burning your fingers. TeaDrop is slightly different with a combination infuser ball and built in timer to mechanically stop steeping when the timer stops. We haven’t tried any of these and hope they provide enough room for loose leaf tea to expand well, but they add both fun none the less.

Stock Certificate from The Long Dock Company

Is Kickstarter the replacement for issuing stock or soliciting venture capital?

Barons of Tea {The Board Game}

For those who are fans of board games and art, the Barons of Tea allows players to imagine they were alive during the time when England ruled the seas and competed to develop the tea trade world wide. This project was intended to fund the creation of a number of these board games envisioned by illustrator Gregory Snader. It was completed, and games were shipped back in 2012.

All in all Kickstarter does seem to be a great way for smaller ideas to get off the ground. In many respects it may even be a better way to prove a market exists than traditional market surveys or attracting venture capital investors. From a tea perspective, we love the creativity of the many ideas supported by the Kickstarter platform which may make our tea enjoyment just a little bit better. (And we can’t wait for our MIITO and Imbue products to arrive).

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Tea Culture in Afghanistan

In looking at the per capita consumption of tea across the globe, it was hard not miss the fact that Afghanistan imported almost 10 pounds of tea per person a year. That is enough to make over 1,500 cups per person per year. This type of consumption implies that there is a strong tea culture within Afghanistan that is worth exploring.

Tea culture in Afghanistan developed in part due to geography and trade.

Map of Afghanistan (Public Domain)

Geography and Tea

Afghanistan is a landlocked country, just about the size of Texas, that serves as the gateway to Asia from the Middle East. Being seen as corridor to Asia by land has subjected this country to constant invasion by all sorts of foreign countries from the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, to the more recent invasions by the Russians in 1978. This location bred great ethnic diversity. While the formal census of Afghanistan people does not include ethnic orientation, the 2004 constitution lists 14 different ethnicities (Central Intelligence Agency, 2015). This same location introduced the tribes in Afghanistan to tea early on, as China sent traders out to get other goods in return for silk and tea. Given its arid climate and poor water supplies, tea gave the tribes a beverage that was non-alcoholic and easy to transport.

Hospitality and Afghan Tea Culture

Afghan tea culture comes in part from the tradition of offering food and beverage to guests

Traditional Samovar – By Kmrhistory (Own work) – CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Even though there is great ethnic diversity in Afghanistan, there are several cultural norms that cross all beliefs. Hospitality is the main one. Hospitality is so important in Afghan culture that it is embedded in children stories and considered a reflection of personal reputation. It is always expected to give food and/or beverages to everyone who is visiting you. Both will continued to be served until the guest signals that they are full and even then the host is expected to ask if they are sure and it is not uncommon to hear the host say “But you have not had enough.”

Tea culture plays a large role in showing hospitality. It is not uncommon to be offered tea when entering a business or a friend’s home. A common tea served in Afghanistan is called Kahwah. It is a combination of green tea, cardamom pods, cinnamon bark, and saffron strands. It may also include peppercorns, ginger and almonds. Much like the traditional Masala Chai Tea from India or Kashmiri Tea from neighboring Pakistan, each family has their own recipe. These ingredients are typically mixed with boiling water in a samovar. The tea is dispensed from the samovar and sugar is added before serving.

So you too can share a small piece of Afghanistan hospitality, below is a recipe for Kahwah Tea that serves 4 (so invite some friends over).

Kahwah Tea

4 cups of Water

4 cardamom pods, cracked

½ inch piece of cinnamon

4 strands of saffron

3 teaspoons of green tea

1 tablespoon sugar or honey

4 blanched almonds, chopped into small pieces


Add the cardamom pods, cinnamon, and sugar to the water and bring it to a boil. Allow to stay at a boil for 5 minutes and then remove from the heat source. Add the green tea and saffron, put a lid on the pot and allow to steep for 3 minutes. The saffron will cause the liquid to turn a light orange color. Strain the liquid into a teapot. Put the almond pieces into 4 tea cups and pour the tea over the almond pieces and enjoy.


Sources Cited
Central Intelligence Agency. (2015, May 27). The World Fact Book: Afghanistan. Retrieved from Central Intelligence Agency:

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