For many reasons, Malawi isn’t a major global trader. One particular cause is its relatively simple – and thus cheap – resources. Malawi’s main trading resource is raw tobacco, which garners $702million annually. Tobacco makes up more than 50% of the country’s entire export portfolio. Other resources emanating from Malawi include sugar, cotton and tea, which has been grown in the southern region of the country for a long time.
|Fields and fields of tea!|
|Lots of different green hues are visible at Satemwa|
We visited a prestigious tea estate, Satemwa, in the hills south of Blantyre and west of Mount Mulanje, Malawi’s highest peak. The estate was established in 1923, with the factory starting to produce tea for the world in 1937. Satemwa consists of roughly 900 hectares of tea and 50 hectares of coffee.
You may not have heard of the estate (I certainly hadn’t), but the probability that you have sampled some of their products is high. Some of the tea leaves which go through a process known in the business as CTC (crush, tear, curl) have ended up in global brands around the world such as PG tips, Lipton, Tetleys and 5 Roses. Their artisanal hand-made range of teas have been used in restaurants such as Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck.
We didn’t have sufficient time to visit the factory or take a proper tea tour of the estate. What you can do is stay in the home of the family who originally set up the estate, MacLean Kay. He built Huntingdon House in 1935. As you can see, it’s rather…posh.
We did sample their teas when treating ourselves to afternoon tea on their lovely, large lawn. They also made tea-based cocktails; I stuck to the delicious Mo-Tea-Too.
The gardens of the house resemble a stereotypical English garden, laden with high bushes and colourful flowers.
Indeed, it struck me as being a colonial experience, particularly on my morning run through the plantation and passing the ramshackle buildings which house the staff. In spite of the clearly visible wealth gap, the workers all waved and said hello as I jogged up and down the hills.
In theory, the staff at Satemwa should be treated well. In 2007 it became the first Fairtrade registered tea estate in Malawi. The certification guarantees a minimum price to farmers as well as a financial bonus. Finding this Guardian article a couple of days later, which suggests leading British supermarkets may abandon Fairtrade, was quite concerning.
After the intensity and excitement of Liwonde National Park, staying at Huntingdon House was a calming experience; a drastic change of pace. I’ll certainly think of Satemwa next time I make a brew.
Love you all