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Warning: Royal Tea of Kenya

I first encountered Joy M. W’Njuguna and Royal Tea of Kenya back in 2011. I had blogged about Kenyan purple tea, and she offered to supply it for me. For a year or so, we had a great working relationship. We got quite a few excellent Kenyan teas from RTK, and Joy was always pleasant and easy to work with.


A slide from one of my presentations on African tea, showing Joy W’Njuguna and me together in 2012.

I try to keep my blog generally upbeat and positive, so when problems started to surface with Royal Tea of Kenya, I kept them private. Our shipments got later and later. Tea that I paid for at World Tea Expo 2012 didn’t arrive for over six months, and I finally got her to ship something else instead. My last order, which I made the mistake of pre-paying, never arrived at all.

For over a year, I have been calling and emailing Joy, and receiving a string of promises. At first they were promises to ship the tea as soon as it was ready. Then, after I told her I just wanted my money back, she’s promised a check in the mail numerous times. Nothing.

Please don’t take this as a general indictment of Kenyan tea! Kenya, the world’s largest exporter of tea, produces some wonderful teas and there is a plethora of ethical tea businesses there. I am speaking specifically of Royal Tea of Kenya, which is a U.S. business based in Nashville, TN.

It wasn’t until I heard from friends that they were having similar experiences with Joy and RTK that I decided I needed to make this public. I sincerely hope that none of the people she defrauded heard about Royal Tea on this blog, but I feel I have a responsibility to make sure I don’t send them any more business.

There are two threads going on LinkedIn tea groups about the problem now. Numerous people are out hundreds of dollars each, and many of us made commitments to our customers based on RTK promises — commitments we were ultimately unable to fulfill.

If you’ve been victimized, I don’t know if you’ll be able to get your money back (I haven’t), but Royal Tea of Kenya is a United States corporation, so we can certainly take some action here. Some of the suggestions from the LinkedIn threads include:

I don’t know how much it will help to contact Kenyan authorities or organizations, since it’s an American company, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to talk to:

My experiences with other companies in the tea industry have been good ones. I’ve made some lasting friends in the world of tea, and learned a lot from some of them. Every barrel has its bad apples, and it appears that Joy is the rotted leaf in the tea basket (wow — that’s one of the most mixed metaphors I’ve ever posted here).

The eternal optimist in me hopes that I’ll get a call from RTK saying “we’ve solved all of our problems and there a check and a box of tea is on its way to you,” but the eternal pragmatist in me has already written off that money. I will post updates here as I hear them.

Kenyan Tea in the News

Flag of Kenya

The flag of Kenya

For some reason, there seems to be a lot going in in the world of Kenyan tea this month!

Kenya is the world’s largest exporter of tea. Not the largest producer, for they consume less than a tenth of the 345,000 tons of tea they produce each year — as opposed to China, which produces about 1.25 million tons, but consumes a staggering 1.06 million tons of it.

The fifth stop on our World Tea Tasting Tour was the Tea of Kenya, which we held last week. I’ll be posting notes from the class and tasting shortly.

One of the things I’m most excited about is a new development in purple tea. The orthodox purple tea that I first wrote about in 2011 has a great story and many benefits. Tastewise, though, it is more astringent than I usually prefer, since I typically don’t take milk in my straight black tea. In other words, it’s just not my cup of tea (I’m allowed to make that pun once a year — it’s in my contract). This year, however, Royal Tea of Kenya has a new handcrafted purple tea that I just got a sample of in February. Ambrosia. Absolutely wonderful stuff. I have a kilo on the way, and I’ll write up some decent tasting notes once it arrives.

CAUTION: Before doing business with Royal Tea of Kenya, please read my post from May 2014. There are at least a dozen companies (mine included) that report paying for tea and never receiving it!

For our tea tasting, they sent us a marvelous new chai (An African chai. Who’d have thunk it?) called Nandi Chai, after the Nandi peoples of Kenya. The tea is a blend of Kenyan black and purple varieties, and all of the spices are Ethiopian. I’ll be writing more on that later.

Nandi Chai

Nandi Chai from Royal Tea of Kenya. I prepared the cup in this picture using whole milk and locally-produced honey.

In other news, the Kenyan tea industry is trying to lower its costs and carbon footprint. An article in Tea News Direct says that four factories managed by the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) are going green through the “Gura project,” which will build a hydroelectric plant on the nearby Gura river. The factories will receive carbon credits from the Clean Development Mechanism, which is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

To end on a lighter note, there’s a post on the English Tea Store blog today that included a picture of what they called the ugliest teapot in the world (picture below). I honestly can’t decide whether it’s the ugliest or the most awesome. Had I spotted one when I visited Kenya decades ago, I would have almost certainly purchased it.

Amelia Rhino teapot

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