Opening the world’s largest tea auction to offerings of purple, green, and orthodox tea will have a direct impact on the availability of African teas in the U.S.
International Tea Importers (ITI) in Los Angeles is working with the Kenya Tea Directorate to oversee exports of purple tea to the U.S.
“We have the capacity to buy purple tea from farmers and we are going to do that so long as it meets the required standards,” said Dhaval Shah, chief marketing officer at ITI. Shah met with Kenya Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett in April at the Global Specialty Coffee Association conference in Seattle, Wash.
Samuel Ogola, head of the Tea Directorate, said ITI will purchase the tea in large quantities and store it in warehouses for distribution to wholesalers in 25 major cities. Shah told Business Daily Africa that ITI is sending a tea expert to Kenya to work with farmers to ensure the tea they produce meets U.S. and ITI standards.
The Mombasa Auction, which offers teas from Burundi, the Congo, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda announced earlier this year it will expand its traditional trade of cut, tea, curl (CTC) black teas to include orthodox production and specialty teas. These new offerings include the 10 million kilos of purple tea now custom processed at seven licensed factories. Kenya is the world’s largest exporter of tea but gets a modest price at auction where black CTC averages about Sh280 ($2.70) per kilo. Purple teas bring as much as Sh1970 ($20) per kilo.
Specialty tea will account for 5% of output in 3-5 years, according to the East African Tea Traders Association. Offerings at the weekly auction will begin slow. Specialty teas currently represent less than 1% of total volume, but consolidating the teas from across Africa at one location will create a one-stop-shop for buyers from around the world, reports Bloomberg News.
ITI began asking potential buyers about their interest in purple tea at last year’s World Tea Expo. An online survey asks buyers to rate the quality and reputation of Kenya’s purple tea. How innovative is purple tea? What tea category do you put it with?
Production of Kenyan black tea fell by about a third to 90.1 million kilograms in the first three months of this year because of a drought. Exports declined 7 percent to 119.7 million kilograms in the same period, according to Tea Directorate statistics.
The Kenya Tea Development Agency, the country’s largest organization of growers, has three of its factories processing specialty teas and expects six more to do so in the next three years.
Orthodox tea, which is popular in Russia, Iran and Western Europe, is made from leaves that are processed by traditional methods of withering, rolling and oxidization, while non-orthodox brands are manufactured using machines that crush, tear and curl the leaves, known as CTC production.