Africa is home to an amazing array of diverse cultures, but one thing they all have in common is an appreciation for tea. Tea plays a central role in social rituals across the continent, whether served as a refreshment to accompany meals, or offered as a show of hospitality to guests.
The type of tea and style of serving varies from region to region, lending African tea culture a pleasing diversity, with endless variations to explore. For instance, in northern African countries such as Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia, as well as west African countries such as Senegal, Mauritania and the Gambia, green teas flavoured with mint and sugar are the preferred brew.
Meanwhile, in countries such as Mauritius and Kenya, black tea is served with milk and sugar, in a style reminiscent of former British colonists in the area. There are regional specialties, too – for instance, South Africa's rooibos tea, a herbal brew prized for its health-giving properties, or Somalia's shaah, a blend of black tea and sugar flavoured with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom.
Although tea is a relatively new crop in Africa, the continent has quickly gained prominence on the global scene, becoming the fourth largest producer of tea in the world. Nearly every country in Africa now grows at least a small amount of tea, with the most common crop being CTC (cut-tear-curl) black tea for use in teabags.
Malawi was the first African country to engage in tea production, with the first commercial plantations established in the 1880s. Kenya soon followed in 1903, and is today Africa's largest producer of tea, with plantations covering over 4,000 square miles. Tanzania and South Africa are also known for producing colourful, zesty black teas, as is Zimbabwe, which grows teas on specially irrigated estates.
While most of Africa's tea crop is exported, it is still possible to sample local varieties during your visit to the continent, or at least to experience the local style of drinking tea. For instance, try some refreshing local rooibos or a crisp black tea from the gardens of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, or a smooth, flavourful brew from Tanzania's Luponde Estate. Similarly, a cup of sweet mint tea is the perfect pick-me-up after a day spent browsing the bustling markets and fascinating historic architecture of Morocco or Egypt.