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  • Writer's picturejohn snell

Out of the ashes of conflict, the organic rebirth of a disrupted tea origin

The Portuguese, responsible for the introduction of tea to Britain and spawning a global revolution in drinking habits, were also responsible for some of the early plantings of the crop in Africa. In Mozambique, a colony for 470 years, the first plantings were carried out in the 1920's and by the 1950's represented the largest area under tea on the continent, centered around Gurue.

It's dominance could have continued had it not been for a bloody war of independence (1964-74) followed closely by a cold war spat that had the Soviets and NATO staging an ideological turf war, very much at arms length. Between 1977 and 1992 a confusing number of factions fought, leaving over 1MM dead, many more displaced and a landscape peppered with 000's of landmines, which continued killing and maiming a generation of innocents long after the cessation of hostilities. Incredibly, during this period, tea was still produced; I remember procuring plain, flaky, often weedy parcels during the 1980's which were largely used as price reducers in blends (definitely not self drinkers!). Eventually, most factories were looted and destroyed resulting in output dropping to 1500MT in 1988 and then vanishing from most buyers radars.

Despite a series of attempts at kickstarting the industry, the bushes around Gurue, in the North of the country, lay abandoned and flourished, awaiting their time.

This haunting landscape of mountains, fertile soils fed by summer rains and a seasonality that creates the best from tea's natural chemistry would be attractive factors by themselves but rehabilitating tea trees not so easy. However, the opportunity of bushes that have not been touched by agricultural inputs for a decade, when organics are in growing demand, was too much for the Asian Tea Group to ignore and invest they did. The estates are now certified USDA, JAS and Ecocert and will produce a massive 2500MT, under these provisions in the 21/22 season, starting in November.

Of course, it sounds simple ( a one minute read and you go from war to certified organic production!) but is far from it! Tea trees need cutting back to optimize production and enable plucking through a series of prunes, weeding needs to be undertaken, factories completely refurbished and labour (a lot of it) needs to be employed and trained, before you can even think about engaging clients.

However, a tenacious spirit begets success and the uniqueness of the natural plant stock here (unchanged by the excessive replanting towards high yielding clones in most of East Africa) means that there is a healthy mix of vr Sinensis and Assamica, enabling the manufacture of almost any tea you can imagine, from medium bodied CTCs to orthodox black and green teas, some showing exemplary style and flavoursome cups.

I for one can atest to the level of competence being applied by a raft of imported specialists, whose Assam credentials are firmly stamped on the liquors of these teas! Given my earlier admission, and the years behind me, to have experienced the output of the same tea bushes then and now; extraordinary!

Herewith the Mont Metilile OP1ZS, a beautiful buttery, croppy affair akin to second flush teas from north east India.

This is definitely not the only place in Africa, or indeed the rest of the tea world, where the pioneering spirit is alive and well but I am delighted that Mozambique has joined the ranks, delivering a new journey of discovery to tea lovers everywhere and, most importantly, again, supporting a large rural population in this remote and stunning part of the continent.

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