The old world charm of the Mombasa Tea Auction!

The old world charm of the Mombasa Tea Auction!

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How lucky were we to be able to visit this amazing institution in Mombasa. Housed in an elegant colonial building in the centre of town, the Mombasa tea auction dates back to colonial times and moves around 380,000 tons of tea every year.

Around 70 buyers gather every Monday and Tuesday to purchase tea from nine East African countries and the auction is steeped in history and etiquette.  We weren’t allowed to take any photos inside but found this one from AP on the net and it really conveys the old world gentility of the event.  Dress is strictly formal even in the height of summer, with shirts and ties mandatory.  Participants address one another as “sir”, although on the day we visited we were pleased to see a lady auctioneer in action, who was addressed as ‘ma’am’!  Despite the absence of microphones, the quick fire repartee was clear and precise, with an undercurrent of real tension as bidders tried to out-strategize their opponents.

We were incredibly lucky to witness this wonderful tradition as unfortunately the auction is poised to abandon its decades old open-cry system and embrace technology by introducing an electronic auction.  Buyers and brokers will no longer be meeting every week to sip tea and haggle over prices – soon all the buying will be done on computer screens.

What a loss to the tea community!

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