As happened in many countries that turned to tea growing in the 19th century, the establishment of tea cultivation in Africa was a direct result of European colonization. The first tea gardens to be planted on the African continent were created on an experimental basis in the 1850s in South Africa (Natal region), and the first commercial plantations appeared in 1877, in the Stanger. Although these first attempts yielded interesting results, it was not until the 1920s that tea growing really got under way. Today, more than 10 African countries produce tea, most of them using the CTC method. Among the major tea growers are Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Malawi, Mozambique and Rwanda.
Yielding very high output - nearly I ton per acre (2 t/ha), whereas China produces barely 1/3 ton per acre (0.7 t/ha) - African production is concentrated almost entirely on black teas.
Today, with the development of the specialty tea market several experiments to improve quality are in development, using mainly the orthodox processing method. In addition, new families of teas, especially white and green teas, are appearing. These experiments are taking place mainly in Kenya and Malawi, currently the only African countries that offer high-quality teas.
A serious part of the industry since the beginning of the 20th century, Kenya is now the foremost tea grower on the African continent and the third-largest in the world. More than 370,000 acres (150,000 ha) of gardens are now devoted to the cultivation of tea, with an annual output of more than 375,000 tons (340,000 t) of the gardens are situated in mountainous regions at altitudes from 5,000 to 6,500 feet (1,500 to 2,000 m), as well as west of the Rift Valley. In 2008, Kenya exported more than 353,000 tons (320,000 t) of tea throughout the world. The most famous gardens are Milima, Marinyn and Kangaita, which all use the orthodox and CTC processing methods.
One of the first African countries to market its tea production, Malawi is still one of the major African growers. The industry is composed mainly of small artisans, who produce more than 49,600 tons (45,000 t) of tea per year. After cotton, tea is the country's major commercial crop.
The first plantations were established in 1878 and gradually spread to the regions of Malanje and Thyolo. At the time, tea trees from the Natal region of South Africa were transplanted, but, due to Malawi’s unpredictable weather; these trees did not live up to expectations. During the 1920s, trees of the assamica variety, better suited to the subtropical climate of Malawi, were imported from India, where the development of cultivars was already very advanced.
Today, growing areas are found mainly in the southern regions of the country, around Thyolo and Mulanje (in the Shire Highlands). Mulanje is the most important growing region in the country.
Malawan teas are still relatively unknown. They are used primarily in tea blends. Most plantations belong to foreign companies that export their production primarily to Europe. Harvesting takes place during the southern hemisphere summer, from October to April.
Exclusively grown in South Africa, rooibos is a beverage that the local population has been consuming for centuries. It is prepared using a plant of the family of pulses (Aspalathus linearis). This plant, which is grown on the plains in the Cedarberg region, is a bush that grows 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 m) in height and is covered in small branches. The leaves and stems are harvested then cut, crushed, oxidated and dried in the sun. Commonly called "red tea," rooibos is rich in minerals and vitamins. Its bright-red liquid is fruity and acidic.