22 Apr Chai moja, tafadhali.
This blog post was written by our 2011 East Africa trip leader, Sabrina Rubli. Read her blog of Sandwiches and Suitcases here.
My favourite part about Kenya, since my first day here three years ago, is the chai. It is the first thing to be brewed every morning, and the first thing to be offered to your guests. Colourful thermoses of steaming chai are found behind every store counter, and in every small hoteli, in the same way that we carry travel mugs of coffee. If you aren’t a tea drinker, you will soon be converted. If you are the type to drink your tea strong and black, you will quickly find yourself adding several generous dollops of milk, and spoonfuls of sugar.
Brewed in large pots over a wood fire, chai is boiled with water, tea leaves, milk and spices. Ground cardamoms, ginger, cloves and cinnamon give it that distinct flavour, and it warms you right up on those chilly early mornings. Served scalding hot in mugs that never seem big enough, I burn my tongue every time, too impatient for it to cool.
Tea is the main cash crop in the hills of western Kenya, and is currently being sold at approximately 12KSH per kilogram. A half acre of tea can yield a maximum of 100kg of tea in one day, if the farmer has meticulously maintained the land. Western Kenya is full of hills, and tea fields cover most of them, bright green leaves glistening in the morning light. The fields are dotted with harvesters, bent low, as they pluck the bright leaves off of the plants, and toss them into the large woven baskets strapped to their back. Giant truck loads of these baskets tear down the narrow roads en route to the tea plants in Kericho – a brand of tea sold the world over.
From field to table, Kenyan chai is my favourite way to start these early mornings. Try as I might, and I do, I can never seem to recreate the unique flavour on my own stove. I buy the Chai Masala spices and I boil the tea leaves in water and milk. Maybe it is because I am missing the smoky wood fire, the milk carried by bucket from cow to pot, or maybe it will never have that delicious taste if not enjoyed in that crisp, clean morning air of Kenya.