A Day Spent Tea Picking

Kericho has a warm and temperate climate making it an ideal location for agriculture and in particular, the large scale cultivation of tea. Consequently, for our Personal Social Learning Day, tea picking seemed like the perfect cultural activity! We utilised our host mother’s contacts and organised the activity with the farm across the road from our rural host home.

On arrival at the location we were shown to the tea fields, handed buckets and put to work immediately. We were taught to pick two leaves and a bud, pretty simple. The tea picking was therapeutic and a great excuse to be out in the sunshine as a team. Everyone fully embraced the opportunity and became immersed in the activity.

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We picked tea leaves for just over an hour. As the time went on, the physical exertion of working for prolonged periods of time in the scorching sun took its toll on some members of the team. We were informed that the payment is 14 shillings (£ 0.097) per kilogram and workers pick 30-70 kilograms per day. From experience, we can assure you that 70 kilograms is an awful lot of tea leaves! Despite our best efforts, the speed in which the farmers picked tea put us all to shame. It would have taken us a tragically long time to achieve such a significant output. The amount of work the farmers complete on a daily basis is truly admirable.

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We decided to take a break and indulged in tea and mandazis (East African sweet donuts) that were kindly prepared and brought over to the field by our heavily pregnant host mother. After recharging our batteries the charming owner of the tea farm, Mr. Bernard, allowed us to see first-hand how mandazis are made. It turns out that the family supply mandazis to several hotels in town!

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The cultural activity of tea picking was an enjoyable and educational experience. Nonetheless we found it difficult to imagine the bright green leaves we had picked being made into what we, as a consumer, see as tea. Thankfully Mr. Bernard saved the day. We were invited into his home to talk about the manufacturing process of the tea leaves. He wasn’t confident presenting in English, yet with many bilingual ICVs (in-country/Kenyan volunteers) amongst us it wasn’t a problem. Mr. Bernard went above and beyond what was asked, he had planned out the information and talked through the entire process from start to finish.

The tea manufacturing process is as follows:

TEA MANUFACTURING PROCESS

1.         Picking the raw material

Chemicals are added to the tea plants to give rise to quality. The tea leaves are picked and taken to the weighing centre where they are weighed and sorted. They are weighed by an electrical weighing machine which automatically inputs the readings to the KTDA (Kenya Tea Development Authority). The readings are added up electronically and the farmer is paid at the end of the month. Every farmer had an identity number which identifies him during payment. The tea leaves are then sorted. The wrongly picked tea is separated from the correct tea then later taken to the main factory for processing.

2.         Withering Stage

All the moisture in the leaves is removed. Some chemicals are added to fasten fermentation which occurs during withering.

3.         Rolling

After all moisture has been removed it is passed through rollers to crush the leaves into smaller pieces or sizes. It also removes all the juice. It is passed through a machine that maintains the zero-defect in quality.

4.         Drying

This stage reduces the moisture content remaining and arrests fermentation.

5.         Sorting and Grading

The sorting stage ensures the qualities of tea are determined. The tea is sorted to different grades from; very fine, very hard, rough and big particles of tea. The fibres are removed from the bulk.

6.         Packaging and Dispatching

As black tea is very hygroscopic (the tea particles pick up moisture from the atmosphere very fast), the packaging has to be of a sufficient standard. The tea is packaged in different sizes dispatched to different places of Kenya.

After learning of the labour that goes into tea picking and the extensive manufacturing process, it is safe to say that none of us will ever take a cup of tea for granted again!

Written by Tabitha Mwangi and Zoe Gray

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