(Feature image: ALAMY)
At the opening of the 20th century, one G.W.L. Caine introduced tea to Kenya as an ornamental plant. In unrelated events, just as the second world war was coming to an end, a Scottish family in Kenya, the McDonells, recognised tea as a promising cash crop. One could say they ended up creating the world’s largest exporter of black tea, and third largest producer of tea. I’m not mad about that. The British also brought to Kenya the culture of tea-drinking. I’m still not mad, because tea is great! Apart from tasting so good, it is packed with things that are supposed to be good for us. Antioxidants anyone?
My father is from the central Kenyan highlands, known for some of Kenya’s best tea. My paternal grandfather owned a tea estate and was influential in all matters tea on the slopes of Mt. Kenya. My mother tells me that when he visited people’s homes, he would low-key throw shade if their tea wasn’t brewed right. He could tell where the tea was from by tasting it, what season it had been picked in, if it had been fermented correctly… basically, he was the ultimate black tea connoisseur. And for my paternal relatives, everything revolves around tea. They drink tea at any time of day, in any season.
10 am? TEA.
4 pm? TEA.
After supper? TEA.
Kenyans generally enjoy their tea. While I appreciate that we like our chai, I think there is so much more in the world of tea than most know. Apart from masala chai (thank the Indians for that!), we really don’t explore this beautiful leaf as much as we should. I like my teas and herbal infusions; be it rooibos, Ceylon, chamomile, or green tea. But nothing could ever have prepared me for the teas at Leaf and Bean (L&B).
I had two friends from South Africa visiting Kenya and we decided to stop by L&B to sample their teas. L&B is a gourmet tea (and coffee, but nobody really cares) shop located in Nairobi’s Parklands suburb. They boast over 75 premium teas, sold per pot and as loose leaves to take away and brew at home. They have everything from flowering teas to fruit-flavoured teas. If you fancy a plain Earl Grey, they’ve got it. If you’d rather have a fancy schmancy Kenyan Kosabei, you’re in luck. Matcha, no problem! Their teas transcend physical boundaries too. From Rwanda to Sri Lanka, Malawi to Japan; you will want them ALL.
The specialty teas come with different hourglass timers for use, depending on the tea you order. i.e. black tea, white tea, green tea and oolong tea. Each one has a different recommended brew time. There is also a glass pot of hot water, with an infuser and tea leaves/flowers that you immerse in it. You get a wooden stirrer and natural honey as a sweetener too.
The specialty teas range from KES 300 to KES 550 per serving. A serving makes about 3 cups of tea. Great value for money!
Here is my take on the 3 teas we ordered.
- Rwanda rukeri: full-bodied with a sweet earthy flavour. It is a Rwandan black tea, enjoyed perfectly without milk. Be careful not to over-steep it as it will get very bitter.
- Sweet cherry and almond black tea: This is a light Sri Lankan black tea. It has a beautiful warm and sweet smell and nutty flavour which I reckon make it a great dessert tea.
- Kenya kosabei sencha: premium green tea, originally from Japan with a golden colour and fresh floral scents.
Fun fact: Certain plots on the Kosabei estate (Nandi Hills, Kenya) share a similar pH level and climate to traditional Sencha plots in Shizuoka, Japan. Bushes selected to grow in these areas flourish, and the Japanese process of steaming the leaf before production is applied.
L&B’s ambience is hardly impressive. However, the knowledgeable waitstaff and exquisite tea experience make up for it.
Leaf and Bean, please start tea-tasting packages. You will make a killing! Also, if you can move to a garden location, that would be great. Otherwise, I’m a fan! And you just may have created a tea monster in me.
Thanks for reading.
Know your tea!
Have you been to Leaf and Bean?
What exotic teas have you had in your life?