‘You have expensive taste,’ says my host Custom, when I chose my favourite brew. I’ve tried 18 of the black, white, green, oolong and fusion blends produced on the balmy, highaltitude slopes here at Satemwa – the leading tea estate in Malawi, southeastern Africa.
The hand-made Bvumbwe is my favourite – and, Custom tells me, Satemwa’s priciest at £10 a 50g tin. The Earl Grey comes in second, while a peachy hibiscus rounds out the top three.
This comparison of cuppas takes place inside Satemwa’s prettily dilapidated white-walled plant. A cheery video on a tiny TV explains how teas are produced on the estate and Custom fills in the gaps – ‘all teas contain some caffeine,’ he says, ‘even green’. About 90 per cent of Satemwa’s teas end up in UK mugs and you can buy it at Waitrose.
Time for a cuppa: Tea is picked on the verdant Satemwa tea estate in Malawi
I’m staying on the estate at Huntingdon House, a colonial-style manse with smart furniture and four-poster beds. You can take a one-hour walking tour of Satemwa’s hillsides, which I do.
My guide, Lamek, fills me in on the history. It was a Briton, Maclean Kay, who founded the estate in 1923, and the Kay family remains in charge today. He then shows me gum-tree glades. Their wood is burnt to help dry the tea.
So, how is it that with around 10,000 tons of it going to Britain each year, I’ve never heard of Malawian tea? ‘Companies, such as PG Tips or Twinings, which buy from here, use their own branding and mix our tea with others,’ says Lamek.
Colonial style: Satemwa was founded in 1923 and Huntingdon House replicates this style
Take your pick: Satemwa produces black, white, oolong, green and fusion blends
We move on, gulping at lush vistas towards Mount Mulanje, spotting a fish eagle scanning Satemwa’s lake and passing groups of waving tea-pickers.
Just an hour from Blantyre’s international airport, Huntingdon is the perfect tea break while visiting Lake Malawi and the country’s rejuvenated safari parks, Liwonde and Majete.
It’s a lovely breather after a few days on the move. On my patio, a waiter approaches. Would I like something to drink? Oh yes, a pot of Bvumbwe, please.