Celebrating the Life & Mourning the Loss of an Artisan Tea Farmer in Kenya

I write under a profound sadness to inform our customers that Lake Missoula Tea Company recently lost one of our primary tea growers, David Born, of Kapsimotwa Gardens in Kenya. He died of COVID-19 in May following a short hospitalization. He leaves behind his wife, Bernadine, and two daughters. His death hit us hard as David was in the prime of his life. For us, it underscores the human toll the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide.
David and Bernadine built a solid tea business growing and processing Purple and Black varieties. Both are well respected in the Nandi Hills region. David was a gentle, soft-spoken person who reached out to us after he found we were selling Purple tea. His enthusiasm for Purple tea further aroused our curiosity in it and his sincerity made us want to work with him.
The Kenyan Tea Research Institute developed the Purple tea hybrid to combat climate change as tea farmers were some of the first to recognize its impacts. David was one of the first tea farmers in his region to grow purple tea. He planted about 15 hectares of it in 2014. In September 2016, we traveled to the Western Highlands of Kenya to visit David’s tea farm in the Nandi Hills.
As we now know, the best tea grows at elevation and the Western Highlands is roughly 1,000 meters above sea level. David and Bernadine’s farm sits atop the Highlands on the Equator. Compared to eastern Kenya, it is green and full of life. The once expansive lowland equatorial forest that stretched from Mombasa to Lake Victoria is mostly gone. The region is now replaced by agriculture, grasslands for grazing animals and woodlots of non-native trees. Kenya is now the third largest exporter of tea in the world!
David planted the Purple tea plants on degraded grazing land, and they’ve responded remarkably well. Purple tea is more resilient than Camellia Sinensis in the face of droughts, frosts, acidic soils and pests. Climate change is happening in Kenya and the tea farmers are using Purple tea plants to mitigate its impacts. Aside from its environmental qualities, Purple tea possesses high concentrations of antioxidants, anthocyanins (anti-carcinogens) and has anti-aging properties making it one of the
healthiest true teas you can drink. It has less caffeine than black tea and has purple leaves and a purple liquor.
David was a pillar in his community and his family. His initiative and commitment to educate others about the virtues of Purple tea translated to more farmers growing it in the Western Highlands. He gave purple tea plants to the pickers that pick for him and sold seedlings to other tea farmers. More so, David served as the tea extension agent, providing training on the agricultural aspects as well as the financial impacts of growing purple tea.
Ultimately, we are forever grateful to David for showing us what a sustainable tea farm looks like. Kapsimotwa Gardens is an artisan, small-scale operation focused on paying their pickers when the tea is plucked, manufacturing their own organic loose-leaf teas, selling it directly to buyers like us and bypassing the tea brokers in Mombasa.

David’s business approach was forward thinking. He knew the climate was changing and that the traditional tea plants would be challenged with a drier climate, so he diversified his tea offerings. The other side of his model is the buyer, who buys directly from “this co-op” brings higher prices to the farmer, and the buyer gets higher quality tea from smaller-scale, organic farming.

We left Kenya impressed with David’s tea farm and with his family. We experienced Kenya in a way that most Westerners aren’t exposed to as David and Bernadine literally opened their house to us. They hosted us like we were family and let us sleep in their bedroom. One day, we all drove down to Kisumu to see Lake Victoria and then to visit Kakamega Forest Reserve. This foray to see some of Kenya’s most beautiful sights was really an exercise in bridging cultures with tea as we experienced the country as guests of a tea family in Kenya.
As we strive to be true to our mission to source the best teas from sustainable sources, we hope to continue to support Kapsimotwa Gardens as the family works through this transition. We hope you continue to buy the Hand-Rolled Purple tea (including Rift Valley Currant and Emerald Elixir), Beliote Black and Sunrise in Kenya. Beliote means Elephant in the Nandi language and is the totem animal in the Nandi (and David’s) clan. Given our affinity for Wooly Mammoths and Mastodons, drinking this tea honors their modern-day ancestors and their long connections to the Nandi people.

Written by Jake Kreilick

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2 thoughts on “Celebrating the Life & Mourning the Loss of an Artisan Tea Farmer in Kenya

  1. I am so sorry to read this, Jake and Heather! What a heartbreaking loss for you, his family, and community. Sending love and a bear hug from Red Lodge.

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