Cameroon Tea Estates
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On the outskirts of a small town we see green plantations stretching into the distance, literally covering every hillside as far as we can see. It turns out this is a huge tea growing region, and a guide book says we can have a free tour of the huge processing plant here at the Cameroon Tea Estates.
I write a formal letter in French requesting a tour, which the secretary passes to the day manager who passes it to the site manager who, well, actually I don’t know where it went but eventually it got approved!
I wish I could apologize to all those people who had to read my French
We start the tour outside where the company is building a viewing platform for the waterfall they have on their land, and we can see workers cutting the tea off the plants. They use huge shears and just take off the smallest amount of the new growth, which they throw into the bag on their back. These workers are paid by how many pounds of tea they cut each day, and it looks like extremely hard work in the hot sun.
Later talking to locals we hear these people don’t make much money for a huge days work, and of course when they get home they must then buy food for their family. Many of them are questioning this arrangement, and instead of working for money to buy the things they need, they are going back to working for themselves and simply growing the food they need, cutting out the middle man, and not having a job.
Again, there is a lot to learn here.
Moving inside we see where the tea is dried a little in a huge warehouse. We are told this is the slow season – during the busy season the entire warehouse would be jammed packed, we are told. From here it is stuffed down chutes, minced multiple times by multiple different grade and shape blades, dried in a few different ways before it finally goes into the monster drying machine that is pumping out heat from the massive wood furnace.
All the big machinery is straight from India, and it is all extremely loud, and will absolutely zero safety guards or worker protection of any kind. Somehow I had never imagined tea production could be such a huge industrial process.
As a final stop we are invited into the tasting room, where a couple of very friendly ladies run the show like a testing lab – checking the quality of tea every hour on the hour, and taking various measurements and samples to ensure quality. Everything is meticulously recorded in enormous log books.
We enjoy a delicious cup of fresh tea, the leaves of which where were processed less than ten minutes ago.