Our Farm Blog

Friday, 3 October 2014

Vive la Difference

A Tea Should Taste Of The Place Where It Is Made

When you stand beside the factory at Tinderet and look out over the slopes of tea and indigenous forest you cannot be struck by how beautiful Kenya is. The rich dark greens of the forest contrast with the lighter leaves of the Ejulu tea bushes and dark volcanic red of the soil. As soon as you walk into the factory the smell of fresh tea hits you and that distinctive deep earthy smell of a natural product. On Tinderet fresh green leaf is made into the black tea in little under 24 hours, fresh is an understatement and the farm's award winning teas are recognisable  for their brisk liquors and bright colours. 

As the season's move from dry to wet each year so the characteristics of the tea change. Tea is not a piece of plastic produced identically every day of the week, it is a living product effected by the climate and conditions it is grown in. But in the dog eat dog world of the supermarkets and their never ending price wars agricultural intensification and numerical imperialisation of natural products is demanded on an ever increasing scale. No one seems to calculate the quality that is sacrificed when agriculture is industrialised. Instead of celebrating the characteristics and seasonal changes of teas from individual farms, supermarkets demand standardised products all year round, rejecting anything that is not deemed correct in their spreadsheet dominated systems.

But tea should taste of where it is made and when it is blended with teas from all around the world then it loses its identity and becomes merely a man-made product manipulated by mechanical techniques instead of naturally tasting of the place where it is grown. Teas straight from the farmers should be celebrated and the unique flavours, liquors appreciated as they change throughout the year signalling the movement of the seasons, rather than being boring and generic!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

A Question of Certification

A Question of Certification

Rainforest Alliance's recent Follow the Frog week helps to raise the profile of sustainably produced products, but does it go far enough? Are truly sustainable products rewarded enough in the market place? At the moment an often simple one-size fits all mentality is applied to sustainable certifications, but is it time to differentiate and award an elusive A* to the very best sustainable and innovative products?

Consumer research would suggest that products need to be clear in the message they portray to avoid confusion, but the ethnically/sustainably produced consumer is traditionally a 'back of pack' reader, so surely more could be done to demonstrate how an A* product is produced to a higher level.

Take the hugely successful global retailer Whole Foods for example, they use a 5 Step Animal Welfare rating system, clearly differentiating between why one product is better than the next, easy to understand and implement. It would be interesting to do the same for tea! For example Energy could be one category, with the top grade growing their own sustainable energy through renewal timber plantations and utilising solar energy, to the bottom poorest certification using timber from indigenous forest. Consumers could then understand actually how the sustainability of products varies hugely despite appearing to be certified.

What would be even more interesting was if the percentage of the certified blend was revealed. How often does a product state a sustainable certification but when you read the pack only a minimum 50% is actually certified. Surely this should only be awarded an Orange light, or B at best rather than an A grade for sustainability and ability to apply the certification logo in full?! Brand's should reveal the sources on a percentage basis of their blends, removing the temptation to showcase only their A grade sources to the public, implying all of the tea in their packs is from these sources, whilst actually these sources only make up a tiny percentage of the blend.

Food for thought!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Solar Tea

Solar Tea

At the moment the world is highly dependent on fossil fuels for energy. There are three major issues which make this unsustainable. First, fossil fuels are very expensive, and only rising in price. Second Fossil fuels are finite and will eventually run out. Third and perhaps most importantly, they release large volumes of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere, causing climate change and hazardous weather. They are not a long term sustainable solution for the world.

Solar Power is simple, clean and cost effective. Unlike Fossil fuels, the sun's energy is guaranteed as the sun shines every day and will never run out. In a single hour the sun transmits more energy to the earth's surface than the world uses in a year!

Commissioned in May 2014 our Solar Park at Changoi is the first utility scale solar farm in East Africa. The size of the park is approximately 1.5 hectares, producing 1MWp, which means it produces 1,6000,000kWh of electricity per year. To put this into perspective since just 1kWh is enough to boil water for 40 cups, this system could boil enough water for every Kenyan to enjoy a cup of tea and maybe a second too!

Africa is not only the ideal location for tea but also for solar electricity too! Located on the equator where the sun is high in the sky all day, provides great conditions for getting the most out of a solar system, with 12 hours of daylight every day.

Not only does this renewable energy source play a significant part in meeting Kenya's growing power demands, both large scalar and small scale potential in Africa, but the solar industry creates jobs for skilled workers and labourers too. On Changoi about 60 people were working on site during construction with other involved with logistics in Nairobi.

The solar power system has been built as part of Williamson Tea's commitment to sustainable farming and a greener future for tea production.  The electricity produced at Changoi will prevent an estimated 20,000 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide from entering our atmosphere over its lifetime and the ystem provides enough power to enable the Changoi factory to run from solar produced electricity during daylight hours, enabling a massive reduction in energy use.

#solartea #farmingthesun

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Williamson Tea Foundation

Williamson Tea are proud to announce the launching of the Williamson Tea Foundation website.

Williamson Tea has been growing tea since 1869 and throughout five generations continues to farm sustainably. The Foundation funds projects that Williamson Tea undertakes as part of an instinctive commitment to caring for their farms and communities, a passion that goes far beyond the simple standards set by certification bodies.

Combining the needs of modern, dynamic agriculture without compromising the ability of future generations to enjoy the same unique conditions that Kenya offers tea farmers today is viewed as an essential mantra of Williamson Tea and with the effects of climate change and a rapidly expanding population the pressure on land in Africa is greater than ever before.

The Foundation invests in both social and environmental projects that aim to improve the farms to the benefits of both those that grow our tea and the land on which it grows. Health care and education is provided to thousands of farmers, their families and children, combating the challenges felt by rural communities in a modern age.
The foundation invests in farming models that are productive, resilient and resource efficient for the future.  It has invested significantly into renewable energy sources, solar photovoltaic and hydro-power systems, whilst actively seeks to encourage climate smart agriculture, carbon sequestration and conservation of water, soils and other natural resources.

As farmers and guardians of the land, the Williamson Tea Foundation ensures that every pack of Williamson Tea helps sustain communities and ecosystems for generations to come.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Green Vs Black, A Common Misconception

Green Vs Black, A Common Misconception

There's a common misconception that green tea contains less caffeine than black with many health conscious consumers selecting a cup of green as part of their efforts to reduce their caffeine intake.

As always with natural products the way is not clear cut. Black tea is generally made from Camelia Sinensis Assamica, whilst green from Camelia Sinensis Sinensis, the different varieties have different properties and Camelia Sinensis Assamica has naturally occurring higher levels of polypenols and caffeine. However in Kenya most green teas are made from the same Camelia Sinensis Assamica as are black, so have in general slightly higher level of caffeine than Asian varieties, but black and green are on par.

These fundamental differences in caffeine levels in the bushes are compounded by human intervention, with the more you pluck and process the leaves the less caffeine is available for absorption, so the coarser the leaf the lower the caffeine. Black involves more processing so offers less caffeine than the green.

But this matter is confused to the consumer as most green teabags in the UK tend to be 2grams rather than the 2.5grams with black. So the caffeine levels are lower but only through a reduced volume rather than true comparison.

Finally there is the variation of brew time, with the longer you brew the more caffeine that diffuses into the liquor, so human intervention again plays a crucial part in the differences in caffeine levels in both green and black tea.

Whilst its important to note that at Williamson Tea we are farmers and neither doctors nor scientists so cannot comment on personal caffeine consumption, Jenna Zoe of "Food's to Love" recently commented that "if you are someone who derives a lot of pleasure out of tea, the benefit could outweigh any slight negatives so tea has a net positive impact on overall wellbeing".

So go on and have a feel good brew!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

A Question Of Caffeine

A Question of Caffeine

“Life is short so stay awake for it” is the strap line of Caribou Coffee from America, but in todays fast lifestyle and a rising awareness of the components of food and drink, caffeine has gained a rather mixed and muddled image. But what exactly is Caffeine and what does it do?

Caffeine is a member of the family of chemicals called methylaxanthines and is found naturally in tea, coffee, mate and cocoa. Caffeine is generally higher in tea than coffee, however in coffee you consume the ground bean, whereas tea you brew then remove. Despite being recognised as identical forms of caffeine, the caffeine in tea is distinguished from that in coffee because it forms different bonds with other substances, changing how it affects the body.

When tea leaves are infused, the caffeine combines with tannins, which attenuate and stabilise its effect. Tannins prevent caffeine from being released rapidly, so it is absorbed over a longer period of time, meaning that the effects occur more regularly and for longer.

In tea, caffeine stimulate the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system by enlarging the diameter of the vessels in the cerebral cortex. On the other hand when coffee is ingested it has a direct effect on blood circulation through the coronary system, stimulating an acceleration of the heart rate.In short tea is more of a natural stimulant than an excitant, sharpening the mind, increasing concentration, eliminating fatigue and enhancing intellectual acuity.  

Monday, 23 June 2014

Tea not just a commodity

Tea not just a commodity...

Tea is an ever present component of British and global culture. According to the UK Tea Association Britons consume an average 2.6 cups of tea each day, making a staggering 165million cups countrywide per day! 

As a nation a tea break is an essential part of everyday life but despite our obvious affinity for the beverage some might argue that by viewing the a cup of tea merely as an everyday commodity, with most tea sold pre packed in teabags, prepared quickly in a cup for only around 10 seconds and often with reboiled water, the British consumer is missing out on enjoying the benefits of a well researched, high quality cup. 

Williamson Tea, tea farmers since 1869 certainly believe this is the case. Inspired by over 140 years of experience in the art of growing, selecting and blending fine teas, Williamson tea forms part of a growing trend of tea retailers who are seeking to develop the consumers understanding of the product, the story and chemistry behind it and how they can get the most from their cup.

Edward Magor, fifth generation of the Magor family to work in Williamson Tea states that it was when he joined the business and started to learn about blending teas from Master Blender Peter Badurdeen that he began to appreciate the unique characteristics and benefits of different teas. From high and slow grown floral flavours to the briskness of dry weather teas. “I underwent a pretty intensive learning period” says Edward, "tasting around 100 or more teas a day to develop my palate and understand the nuances of different blends.” 

Sipping a cup of and unusual blend of Pure Green Tea Earl Grey, Edward goes on, "We  like to be thorough, I studied agriculture at university to better understand the science and theory behind tea growing. I feel that it's the intrinsic knowledge we have of our farms, build up over generations, that allows us to produce such high quality teas.

Our approach to producing tea is simple, we care for the soil and the tea bushes ensuring that the fertility is not just preserved but actively improved. Good soil structure is essential to the health of a plant, tea bushes can live for decades and the ‘terroir’ they grow on directly influences the liquors their teas produce. Our Mini Cru range for example features teas not just from single farms, but from specific areas on each farm, where the specific micro climates the bushes are exposed create unique teas and flavours."

Kenyan teas are characterised by their brisk bright liquors and rich, red colour and are the mainstay of the British tea market’s blends.  "Our farms specialise in producing bright liquoring teas, essential for punching flavour and colour through a teabag. Some producers make a much blacker leaf than ours, great to look at and favoured in some markets around the world but for us it's all about the liquor, after all you drink a cup of tea rather than look at it!”

Hard or soft water can also have a huge effect on a cup of tea, with some brands retailing specific blends for different water types. "Our office in Newbury has terribly hard water” says Edward, “but we know that if a tea tastes good here, it will taste good throughout the country. It's a great base line test!”

The future of teas, as with all products is buying direct from the source sustainably grown products. Removing excess ‘food miles’ and insuring that the consumer knows exactly what’s in their cup, where it’s from and how it’s grown. 

#whatsinyourcup #sustainabletea #tea #futureoftea

A brisk bright cup infused with milk, next to a cup of Pure Green