It is 7am and just like many Kenyans, Mr Henrik Ruto starts his day with a hot cup of tea. However, his ‘poison’ is not the usual black tea most Kenyans are accustomed to but purple tea.
For months, the tea lover who owns an acre in Kabianga, Belgut constituency, has been supplying to the local market, his brand of purple tea, Sir Henriks Tea.
“I have set up a cottage processing unit in Kabianga. I hope to operate it fully once I get a licence from tea regulators. At the moment, I have entered a contract with a privately owned factory to do packaging for me. We are doing 400Kg of tea per month of tea bags and loose tea,” says Ruto. To start off his venture, Ruto took a bank loan —Sh800, 000— which he used to acquire tea driers and rolling tables he imported from China.
“At the moment, we are finalising a deal with a company in China with the help of a locally owned company, to supply us with additional machinery,” says Ruto.
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Ruto says he first encountered the purple tea during an open day by the Tea Research Institute in 2013. He was impressed he bought the seedlings at Sh10 each.
THE MANY BENEFITS
“I was fascinated by the tea especially the health benefits. Currently, consumers worldwide are adopting a healthy eating habit and enjoying healthy beverages. Purple tea contains high levels of antioxidants than those in green and black teas,” says Ruto.
Antioxidants are substances that inhibit oxidation and removes potentially damaging oxidising agents (free radicals) in a living organism. Free radicals can cause a wide range of illnesses and chronic diseases that include cancer, diabetes, and arthritis among others. According to research, the tea has the ability to prevent such diseases.
Additionally, the tea helps to improve vision, helps metabolise cholesterol acting as a slimming tea, prevent cardiovascular diseases, helps in detoxification and has been shown to exhibit neuro-protective effects. Sir Henriks Teas are packaged in 100gms loose tea and also in 50gm and 100gms tea bags. 100gms loose tea, 25 tea bags and 50 tea bags is valued at Sh300, Sh250 and Sh550, respectively. The tea is available in various tea retail outlets.
“The tea bags are loved by consumers who want to consume the tea in offices. It avoids the hustle of sieving the tea and one can make it with hot water from a dispenser,” explains Ruto.
For purple tea, the simpler the better.
“When taken without sugar and milk, it increases its potency. Fresh lemon is squeezed into the tea to enhance flavour and colour. Natural sweeteners such as stevia and honey can also be used to enhance the taste.”
Ruto was inspired to go into the business by the demand for the health drink both locally and internationally.
“My dream to process the tea was hatched after I witnessed how the tea was being processed. It was so simple and it required no sophisticated machinery,” he said.
He is quick to point out that purple tea is not processed like the regular black tea.
“Setting up the factory is easy but processing the tea to the desired taste, character and flavour needs expertise. It is commonly processed as orthodox rolled tea. If processed in the wrong way, purple tea loses the active component; anthocyanin - that’s what makes the final liquor to be purple and gives the tea its superior quality over the green and black tea,” he says.
According to tea sector reports, purple tea bush yields 1.7 to 1.8 kg per year under good agricultural practices and maintenance. Purple tea is also drought resistant, but the purple colour diminishes during the dry season. It is best harvested during the cold rainy seasons.
However, Ruto cautions that processing the tea during the wet seasons is a challenge. “Withering takes time during wet seasons and thus a lot of power is required to drive hot air fans which require a lot of electricity and this leads to an increase in the cost of production,” he says.
And for farmers interested, he has take homes. “Purple tea is a new plant and people are still sceptical about planting it. However, the demand for the tea is high and the few processors cannot meet this demand,” he says.
But the main challenge at the moment he points out, is the fact that factories that can process the tea are far from Kericho.