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Ethiopia tea is an award-winning primary tropical produce that thrives in the mildly cool, tropical weather of the Rift Valley. For this reason, the Gold Star-prize recognized scented black and green tea is a year-round season.
Also known as Shay in Amharic, Ethiopia tea (Camellia sinensis), especially green tea is a major organic crop from the highlands of the south and south-west. The country relies on mostly private farming agencies that the government supports to produce home and export tea. The country produces over 7000 tons of the produce from small-scale farmers’ and the government’s farms. Around 4500 tons out of this output enjoys local consumption while the rest goes into export. The state has also set an eye on cultivating more of the plant in arable land of over fifty thousand hectares. Outside small-scale farming, there are also large-scale plantations of tea in the country. Most of these swathes of land began production in the early 1970s as trials. Many developments have since been witnessed including the set up of the certification agency Ethio Agri-CERT in the year 2000.
The Three Most Exported Forms
Ethiopia tea reaches the market in at least three forms. Fermented or unfermented black tea is the most exported form. Of the $3731000 foreign revenue that the country generated in 2017, black tea formed 99 percent of the volume. By bulk, green tea or shay has the smallest output although many users at home, and abroad, prefer its antioxidant effects. In 2016, the country exported $20,000 worth of this raw, unprocessed produce.
Ethiopia tea thrives under the cool spells of the Great Rift Valley throughout the year. The plant prefers light but deep-set soil with an acidic pH, and good drainage. The Ethiopian Highlands provide the optimal land elevations of 2100 meters that are ideal for the crop. The mean rainfall per year is also suitable at 100 cm.
The bulk of Ethiopia tea comes from the forested areas of the south-west famous for its fertile fields. Gambella and Hawassa are the keynote production centers. The majority of the growers in the zones are smallholder farmers. There is also Oromaya where most plantations are situated.
Months of Availability
Ethiopia tea is present year-round. This is because the crop is ready at different months in the diverse agro-ecological regions of the southwestern highlands. The harvesting incidentally comes at the peak of the two rainy seasons in the Ethiopian summer and autumn.
Harvesting, Processing & packing
The harvesting of Ethiopia tea starts after 48 months from the planting date. Picking is a time-tried art that is done by hand. A field of about a hectare requires an average of five days to complete. The workers, most of them experienced women, selectively pick the uppermost two leaves with their bud. They put the trio in bamboo baskets that they carry on their backs.
The processing of Ethiopia tea is dependent on the form under which it reaches the market. For black tea, the leaves initially go through a fermenting process. Special equipment oxidizes the leaf juices, diffuse the natural aroma and concentrate other compounds that make a strong beverage. Fermentation also discolors the leaves from green to a shade of brown. A drying stage follows so that the content can amass a moisture level of less than 2% from its current 45%.
The processing of green tea, on the other hand, is less involving. There is neither oxidization nor fermentation to retain the original color and compounds of the leaves. However, the leaves are dried to reduce moisture before packing. The content may undergo flavoring to improve aroma or go unflavored depending on the market needs.
After collection and processing, workers pack Ethiopia tea in solid crates made of plywood or special chests. The chests have protective aluminum paper interior linings. Aerating plastic sacks are also preferential for bulk shipments. Green tea in Ethiopia goes into packings of above 3-kilogram packets.
Because of the initial fermentation, tea needs relatively warm temperatures for storage. 14 degrees Celsius is the advisable optimum. The relative humidity should clock around 60 percent. The shipload travels to the airport for dispatch overseas under the same controlled temperatures.
Whether black or green, Ethiopia tea is one of the perennial beverage favorites across the world. Because it grows under scrutiny by the government which supervises its cultivation, it easily passes Global Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certifications. Shay does better in the tropical weather of Ethiopia where there is no winter than in other Asian competitors.
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