Malawi Antlers, a white tea, are delightful on multiple levels!
The country of origin
Malawi, a small landlocked country located in southeastern Africa, struggles. Most people farm, with agriculture primarily subsistence and cash crop. Their exports do include produce from small landholdings, as well as tea (primarily black tea) and tobacco from large estates.
Within Malawi, the Satemwa Tea Estate is found in the south, in the southern Shire Highlands, at an altitude of 1,640–3,230 ft above sea level. This third-generation family-owned enterprise has been around just shy of 100 years!
First, a quick plant physiology lesson!
- A shoot, or metamer, comprises leaf, node (the point from which a leaf emerges), internode, and bud; the shoot varies according to how the leaves are arranged on the axis of that particular plant.
- A module is an axis formed of metemers.
- A fully developed module can be a long shoot or a short shoot.
You can see the bud as well as the emerging leaves from the nodes in this forsythia shoot:
So, to produce Antlers, tea bushes with a longer shoot axis are selected.
And while that may sound pretty simple, multiple factors are at play here. Water potential in the leaves, air temperature, vapor pressure deficit, and dormancy cycle all affect shoot initiation and extension rate.
In the Malawi Antlers shown above, you can see a bud (left) as well as a node (center).
For Antlers, shoots are picked in March to April and air dried, classifying this as a white tea. This minimal production process also ensures that the shoots retain a bit of velvety sheen.
Only around 50 kg of Antlers are produced annually, making this a rare tea.
Malawi Antlers may seem an odd name but it’s very apropos. Each stalk resembles an antler!
I brewed a heaping teaspoon at 190°F for 2 minutes. Although my outdoor photo shows a golden brownish cup, indoors it almost had the slightish pink hue to it. The aroma was floral, sweet, honeyed.
Flavor? To me, it’s wonderfully smooth, light and fruity (but which fruit?), slightly sweet, floral, layers of flavor, without any bitterness and with little astringency. Not like anything else I can think of.
The second brew seemed almost creamier to me. It was equally delicious but with perhaps less fruitiness. I love all the flavor nuances I get in each sip.
And although the stalks may look like Japanese Kukicha Houjicha, the resemblance stops there!
So, from its origin on a longtime family-owned tea garden—to its name—to its appearance—and to its exquisite taste—this tea offers a lot that’s delightful. Malawi Antlers are definitely worth a try!
–Janendra M. De Costa, W. A., et al., “Ecophysiology of tea,” Braz. J. Plant Physiol. 19(4):299–332. 2007.
–Krishnamurthy, K. V., ed., Growth and Development in Plants, p. 202, Scientific Publishers, 2015.