When you think of tea you might think of Britain; the British are renowned tea-drinkers after all. Or maybe you think of India, which is where some of the best tea in the world is grown. Do you think of Malawi? Probably not. So, it may come as a bit of a surprise to know that the Thyolo region in Malawi is not only an acclaimed tea producer but also ranks among the most sought after tea tourism destinations.
Tea tourism is not a term encountered very often, but it’s something upon which India and China have come to rely. People are interested in tea; they want to know where it comes from and how it’s grown. More than that, however, they want to recapture some of the magic of yesteryear.
Tea plantations conjure up images of old fashioned civility and values. They allude to simpler times. It doesn’t hurt that tea plantations are also generally found in some of the most beautiful landscapes of the world. Tea plantations themselves are beautiful, with all the fresh greenness that seems to undulate forever. They are peaceful, almost spiritual places. Even people who don’t like tea like tea plantations.
Among the most renowned tea estates are those in Darjeeling, India. Darjeeling tea has been called the “champagne of teas”. Ask any tea connoisseur what his or her favourite tea is and chances are good that it will be Darjeeling.
China also produces its share of tea, although the plantations tend to yield green tea rather than the black tea for which Darjeeling is famous.
When you think about it, most of the world’s tea is produced in Asia, with Malaysia and Sri Lanka also getting in on the action. For some reason, Africa slips below the tea lover’s radar.
That is starting to change, however, as the Thyolo region steps up to take its rightful place among the old tea producing giants.
In 2007, the UK’s Independent newspaper declared the Satemwa Tea Estate in the Thyolo region to be one of the five best tea plantation hotels in the world. The estate was founded in 1923 and offers guests three accommodation options: the uber luxurious Huntingdon House with five en-suite rooms; the very comfortable Chawani Bugalow; and the relatively simple Zomba Cottage.
Not only does the estate specialise in tea, but it also grows its own speciality coffee.
As it is a working estate, visitors have a chance to experience the inner workings of a tea plantation, although tours will have to be arranged beforehand. You can’t just wander among the workers and into the buildings at a whim.
In addition to the peace and tranquility of the estates themselves, the Thyolo region also contains the Thyolo Forest Reserve and Thyolo Mountain. Mount Mulanje, the highest mountain in central Africa, is also nearby.
If you like tea, or even if you don’t like tea but you like old school values and more nature than you can shake a stick at, put Thyolo on your itinerary. It’ll add a whole new dimension to your Malawi.