Chai

Heading out to Kenya for a coffee lover like me was too exciting, as the chances of finding good quality and properly made coffee was much higher than in any other African country I had yet visited. Kenyan coffee has a reputation around the globe for its “aroma” and “full bodied flavour” – If you know coffee and treasure these statements, let me tell you Kenyan coffee will not disappoint. Even basic store-bought ground coffee might just elevate you to a higher state of happiness.

While for the world Kenyan coffee is a prized possession, it turns out that in Kenya itself, coffee is more a way of making cash, and it’s really in tea leaves where Kenyan hearts truly lie. Tea, and not coffee means home and it’s the baseline for hospitality and good manners.

Kenya’s dual outlook on life and hospitality

“I’m a tea snob” – Faith announced to me during one of our many Tell-me-all-about-Kenya conversations over breakfast.
“What? That much?”
“Yes, you don’t give guests a tea bag, it has to be brewed. A tea bad is just bad hospitality. You wouldn’t dare give a guest tea in a teabag, that’s just wrong”

I felt my universe expand by a million light years. I had been living in ignorance all my life; I had never bothered to look beyond Kenya’s the coffee fame assuming this was it. How wrong I was. As I started researching a bit more, I understood why we had so many different types of tea in the cupboard, why the Kericho valley tea was the first one to be finished, and why Ali sent us tea as a present. Turns out Kenya’s black tea has the best quality in the world and often and all other tea-producing countries, mix their tea leaves with Kenya’s for a higher quality product.

To this I will testify that Ketepo Valley’s Earl Gray tea is the best I have ever tried in my life. Before my conversation with Faith, I just thought there was something in the water that made tea taste better in the Maasai Mara, when I realised it was the tea itself, my taste buds exploded to a new level; I have truly never tasted such a tea.

In Chai – I found- is where all of Kenya’s Maasai Mara idiosyncrasies combine. Remnants of a colonial time, chai is the local (exquisite) black tea mixed with milk. This particular tea, which is at the base of Kenyan hospitality and everyday life, should never run out in any establishment and to avoid this, massive kettles of chai are made freshly every morning and are meant to last through the day. True to the legends, pasteurised, long life milk was frowned upon by the locals and every morning a local Maasai (man or child) would bring fresh cow’s milk to the camp – much to the delight of every lactose tolerant person in camp.

Everyday Simon or his brother would bring fresh milk from their cows to the camp

As part of the local traditions and way of life, a kettle full with fresh Chai was made by boiling the milk and then adding black tea and sugar, loads and loads of sugar (and If you’re like Jen, hot chocolate to make a Mocha Chai). Once the chai was made, everyone sat down to enjoy a piece of warm bread and a cup of chai around the table before the day started.

Anthony starting to make a new pot of Chai with the fresh milk

This tradition was my favourite part of every morning and I made sure I timed my coffee making with everyone’s Chai drinking, just so that I could experience an deeply Kenyan moment everyday, after all, life is about savouring the local moments of the path you walk.

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