Sangay Tea Estate, Ecuador

PALORA, Ecuador

Nestled high in the Andes, at almost 3000 ft., lays the only black tea producer to be found in the Amazon region – Sangay Tea Estate.

This unique plantation was founded in 1964 in a region with a climate similar to Kenya.  Lush green tea plants fill the landscape which is peppered with palm trees, vines, and tropical flowers.   All of this is framed by a horizon of towering volcanoes and rainforest clouds in the distance.  It thus comes as no surprise that Sangay is named after a volcano 50 miles from its door.  Tea grows in these amazing conditions all year round.

Sangay is now the biggest tea producer in Ecuador, selling tea under their own Horniman and Sangay brands, but also exporting tea to North America and Europe.

The estate has overcome considerable difficulties that it faced when it was first established, due to its remote location.  At that time the Sangay estate was in a scarcely inhabited area more than 30 miles from the nearest village. Indians came down from the Andes to take the estate jobs. They also set up smallholdings and built the town of Palora.

Both the tea estate and Palora have changed immeasurably since those early days. New ownership in 1992 bought regeneration of the equipment being used at Sangay, and investment into the town.

In addition to the original 400 hectares of tea plantations, 100 hectares of young tea are also in full production now.  The bushes are carefully tended throughout the year and harvested with self propelled harvesters, which have height regulators to maintain leaf quality.  State of the art equipment at the factory means that both ‘crush, tear, curl’ (CTC) and loose leaf teas are produced.

Workers pruningThe owner of Sangay, CETCA (in Spanish, Compañia Ecuatoriana del Te Ca), is strongly involved in the local community, supporting infrastructural development in Palora for schools and kindergartens and the local church.  They also offer training in technology and agricultural production to local farming groups, and work with small scale herbal tea producers to pack and distribute local herbal teas.

Commitment to sustainable farming and community involvement, have led Sangay to become Rainforest Alliance Certified.  Jaime Flores, manager of Sangay, said Rainforest Alliance Certification was originally pursued in 2008 order to continuously improve their operations. For example, the certification process has resulted in better management of agrochemicals and reduction in their usage, including the elimination of all flammable chemicals on the estate.

After a recent trip to visit Sangay, Maya Albanese, Rainforest Alliance’s North American coordinator of sustainable value chains stated that “It would be hard to find a better example of the ways in which sustainable farm management practices can lead to a re-flowering of native plants and animals that live in symbiosis with the crops”.

This investment in the environment and community has led tea production at Sangay to increase five fold in the last 15 years with no sign of slowing.  The future looks bright for Ecuadorian black tea.

Parque Nacional Sanjay signage
Sanjay Tea Estates is located near Parque Nacional Sanjay Protected land