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Partner Story: Satemwa Tea Estate

In 2014, Big Heart Tea Co. started getting serious about its supply chain. We set out to offer a line of specialty teas that took quality and origin story into account. And that’s when we met Alex and Wouter from Satemwa Estate in Malawi.

Founded in 1923, Satemwa is the last family-owned tea estate in Malawi. This three generation run farm specializes in growing chemical-free coffee and tea and most recently started working closely with a collective of small holders to grow herbs, flowers and high-quality specialty teas.

Satemwa staff inspects fresh tea leaves at Malawi's Fair Trade Satemwa Estate

Staff at Satemwa Estate

Staff at Satemwa Estate

Photos by Satemwa

Why Sustainable Malawi Tea Matters

Supporting Satewa means more than buying direct from a community-centric farm — it’s about building meaningful partnerships with value-based leaders. 

Malawi is a country made up of beautiful farmscapes, rolling mountains, and biodiversity for days, but it’s not without its own unique set of problems. Deforestation and eroding ecosystems from unsustainable cash crops like tobacco have taken its toll on the land and its people. 

Far from status quo, Satemwa Estate leads sustainably — committed to investing in people, community, and land stewardship for future generations. They're a real kind of leader. Like, the big-hearted kind. 

Tea pluckers at Satemwa Estate

Photo by Satemwa

Here’s how they do it:

  • Health and wellbeing: They ensure health and wellbeing for their community by providing clinics, emergency response teams, free healthcare for kids under 5, community check-ins by health care workers, and public health education programs.
  • Education: Working with the government to support primary schooling for over 1000 kids, plus scholarships for 150 teens, Satemwa knows that education is key for sustainability. Kids at school have access to environmental sustainability programs, too, like permaculture and food foresting
  • Gender Equity: Gender equity has been a goal on the farm for generations now. They work toward this by providing nurseries for working moms and schools for the kiddos of working moms and offering mentorship programs to women on the farm and in production.
  • Sustainability: Satemwa believes in climate action. They face the threat of climate change openly and head-on, investing in research for hardier varieties of tea, reforesting the land, encouraging smallholders to plant woodlots and use energy-efficient stoves, planting fruit forests for employees, and more. All teas from Satemwa Estate are Fair Trade, UTZ+, and Rainforest Alliance Certified.

Efficient stoves for tea-drying at Satemwa Estate. Photo by Satemwa (https://www.instagram.com/satemwa/)

Photo of an energy efficient rocket stove for tea-roasting, by Satemwa

Conditions for quality

Satemwa Estate is in Thyolo District, tucked away in the Shire Highlands of Malawi. Malawi itself is rich with lush forests and a large lake that takes up a big percentage of its landmass, but it’s the Shire Highlands terroir where tea has historically flourished. 

These hills are cooled by drifts of romantic mist from the Mozambique Channel and is made up of east-facing slopes, protecting it from drying out in the hot summer months.

Year-round, Big Heart Tea Co. works with two teas and one herb grown by Satemwa: a whole-leaf roasted green tea, a cut black tea perfect for iced tea or blending (like in our Edith Grey), and whole hibiscus flower.

You can find these teas blended with bergamot in Edith Grey, blended with Assam Heritage Tea in our Big Heart Breakfast, or as single ingredient experiences in our Malawi Roasted Green and Malawi #413 Iced.

Malawi Roasted Green

loose leaf malawi roasted green from satemwa estate by big heart tea co.

Too often, we’ve heard customers declare that “green tea is too bitter.” Well, it doesn’t have to be!

Green tea has a bad reputation for being astringent, but that’s mostly because the fragile, unoxidized tea leaves require lower brewing temps than black and herbal teas.

So we chose Malawi Roasted Green because it's lightly-roasted. This protects the refreshing, nutty flavor of the leaves even when brewing with high-temp water.

Malawi #413 Iced

When our cafe partners first started asking which iced tea options we offered, we froze. Mainly because specialty tea (what we do) and iced tea (what Lipton does) exist in two completely different worlds. In specialty tea, origin, terroir, agricultural practices, processing methods, and presentation are all important.

But iced tea is SO different. That consistent flavor experience you get with conventional iced tea is the work of years of blending and formulation — adding color and flavoring to tea leaves from various farms and harvested in various seasons, or sometimes even years. Gross.

Malawi #413 Iced is none of these things. This unpretentious iced tea brews a crisp, naturally sweet cup with a hint of back porch nostalgia. And of course, no added flavors or colors added.

Malawi Black Hibiscus

Big Heart Tea also sources hibiscus flowers for our limited edition Malawi Black Hibiscus. Hibiscus is made available through a partnership between Satemwa Estate and the Msuwadzi Smallholder Tea Growers Association.

This smallholder co-op aggregates herbs and flowers from 190 family farmers around Satemwa. Through this initiative, family farms are able to monetize crop rotation and soil health while adding new streams of revenue (which is better for them AND better for their land).

And hibiscus not only tastes good, but is a heart-healthy friend. Consumed three times a day, this flower is clinically-proven to lower blood pressure, help even sugar and lipid levels, and is packed with antioxidants like Vitamin C — which fight free radicals, boost immunity, and protect brain function

Alice Ganisha has been farming Satemwa's hibiscus for 25 years from her small holding in Bwaila village

Photos by Satemwa

 

It doesn't get any better than this, folks.

 

 

 

 

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