By Prudence Minayo
Eight sisters from Kericho are proving that family run businesses indeed work. They own and operate the Sh100 million Ernestea Factory in Kaptebeswet. They are: Nancy, Audrey, Betty, Caroline, Rosemary, Betty, Valary, and Joyce. They process and sell various tea varieties both within and outside the country. Their teas are certified by Kenya Bureau of Standards, Tea Board of Kenya, East Africa Tea Traders and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service.
To prevent family wrangles from interfering with the business, they uphold a very strong leadership structure guided by professionalism. In an interview with a local daily, Rosemary Langat-Rop-who is the factory spokesperson-explained the intricacies of their tea empire.
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Here is what WoK gathered about the multi-million business owned by the eight sisters.
Their family began cultivating tea on 12 acres of land in 1961. It is from this that their factory was born and today they have expanded to 80 acres.
In 2016, the Kenya Tea Board changed the law to permit farmers who own more than 20 hectares of land to participate in the cottage industry. Their parents, the late Ernest and Ludiah Langat, advised them to invest in a factory producing orthodox tea.
Rosemary told The Standard that when producing tea through the orthdox method, it maintains the health benefits including reducing inflammation.
“Orthodox tea production process retains the most health benefits, decreases inflammation, weight gain, reduces heart disease, blood pressure, cholesterol and prevents cancer cells from developing,” she told Smart Harvest .
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Tea planting and Processing
Today, Ernestea processes between 2500 and 3500 kilogram of tea leaves on a daily basis including green and yellow clones. The clones are used to process fermented, white, black, green and oolong teas. They acquire their tea leaves from their farm and other neighbouring farms.
The sister’s spokesperson says that since tea is graded, they make sure that the right techniques are employed during planting and picking. This ensures they get the best quality possible. Their tea leaves are properly handpicked and grown without pesticides and chemicals. They are also grown in volcanic soils with an altitude of 2100m above sea level which lends them a robust natural taste.
Not only is their tea processed well, but they also focus on packaging them in sustainable materials that can be recycled. They sell their tea both locally and internationally online, in supermarkets, to brokers, tea houses, packers and blenders
Since they wanted to broaden their portfolio, they made a choice to add value and focus on herbal teas which have become a people’s favourite due to their health benefits.
Processing the different tea varieties
To process the green tea, they start with withering fresh tea leaves, fixing and drying. Fixing is where enzymatic browning of the wilted leaves is controlled through heat application. Most say that the more the tea is fixed, the more aromatic it becomes.
To process yellow tea, the leaves are fried, fixed, wrapped and dried. For the white tea, they are withered then dried. The oolong tea is withered, rolled, oxidized, fixed then dried. Black tea is withered, rolled, oxidized and dried. Finally, the fermented tea is withered, fixed, rolled and fermented.
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