Home GENERAL NEWS Hard lesson that led to specialty tea business

Hard lesson that led to specialty tea business

by biasharadigest
ELIZABETH OJINA

By ELIZABETH OJINA
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As the year ends, one of the things discerning farmers will be planning to do in 2020 is finding ways of making more money from agribusiness. One sure way to do this is by adding value to their potatoes, milk, fruits or chickens.

The value-addition journey, however, is not a walk in the park, especially if one’s products are to stand out.

We sought to find out from Boaz Katah, an agriprenuer who processes specialty tea, his experience on value-addition.

Katah’s firm, Tumoi Tea, is at Savani Tea Estate in Nandi Hills, Nandi County, an area dominated by vast plantations started during the colonial period.

The 500-square metre company sits on a two-acre farm and produces a wide range of teas – black, green, white, purple and oolong – that he sells abroad.

Katah says he has lived and breathed tea all his life, having been born and brought up on a plantation. He often accompanied his father, Jacob Katah, to the tea farms and factories.
“I started this project in April 2011 after taking part in a tea expo in the United States organised by the office of the Prime Minister. I was in the business of buying tea from factories and later selling it to people,” the 40-year-old entrepreneur told Seeds Of Gold.

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“I went with my tea to the expo. What I didn’t realise was that there were other ways of processing tea. While at this exhibition, no one was interested in my tea. I literally threw it in the dustbin.”

After witnessing other ways of processing tea, demonstrated by the Japanese, Chinese and Indians, Katah was inspired to start a firm for making specialised tea.

“My dream all along was to own a factory. With this new method, I could start with basic equipment such as rollers, driers and sieves,” he says.

The tea his factory processes is different from the ordinary cut, tear, curl (CTC) tea processed in the local factories.

“My tea is from the same plant but is processed differently. It is ideal for people who prefer to drink tea without milk. It is a very mild tea,” he explains.

Not many people are involved in this kind of tea. So far, only seven companies are licensed but only two are actively processing.

He took time to do research on the new tea processing method via YouTube as there was no such factory locally at the time.

With a Sh250,000 capital drawn from his savings and family donations, Katah bought locally fabricated equipment.
He later imported better gadgets for rolling tea leaves from India.

The rolling machines are used to curl the leaves while driers reduce the moisture content.

“The most basic way is to roll the leaves with your hands and dry them using sunlight,” Katah says.
Processing specialised tea

The businessman buys most of his the tea from farmers at sh50 to sh100 per kilo. “We insist that the farmers pick two leaves and bud. We don’t want any green leaves,” he says.

Once the leaves are picked, they go through they are withered for about 18 hours. Then the leaves are fed into the rolling machine.

“Rolling should take about an hour,” he says. After the rolling, the leaves are sieved.

The smaller pieces fall through the sieve and are collected, ready for drying, while the bigger ones are taken back for rolling.
The freshly picked tea is exposed to steam, rolled and dried. Tumoi Tea processes 2,000 kilogrammes of green leaves daily, which results in 400 kilogrammes of processed tea.

“A lot of it has been because of online research. We also get information about new technology and science from the Tea Research Institute,” Katah says.

Since Kenya has not been making this kind of specialised tea, Katah usually goes to India for training and workshops.

The specialised tea is then packed in 30 and 50kg brown bags ready for export to the United States, Canada and Germany.

Tumoi Tea factory has 10 permanent employees. In addition, Katah works with 20 to 30 farmers who supply him with the leaves.

Even as he exports most of his tea, the agripreneur has kept an eye on the local market. “We plan to begin selling specialised tea in Kenya in January. We may expand to the rest of the East Africa after that,” he says.

“Most traders are not aware that Kenya can produce these kinds of tea. Our country has great potential for specialised tea. The climate is good and our tea leaves are pesticide-free,” he explains.
Kericho Tea Research Institute director Samson Kamunya encourages investors to begiin processing and selling specialised teas.

“As the global prices keep falling, our tea loses its value during the auction. The only option is to empbrace new processing techniques because such tea fetches high prices,” Dr Kamunya says.

He adds that the specialty tea fetches $10 to $50 per kilogramme, depending on quality. And Katah’s foray into specialised tea is paying off.

In November, the entrepreneur was given Sh2 million by Sinapis, a faith-based institution that offers entrepreneurs capital, after he participated in a business plan contest.

Katah plans to expand his business by getting more equipment to increase production.

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