Kenya courts electronic tongue to test tea

Kenya has imported electronic tongue that mimics the functions of human taste buds in testing the quality of tea leaves, a move meant to encourage precision in tea production, at a time when experts are blaming over reliance on human senses for low quality of the leaves and earnings in the sector.

Quality of Kenyan tea is about 90 percent pegged on human senses through tea tasters, a fact that has lowered averaging quality as the practice is heavily laden with inaccuracies.
But all this is now changing, albeit slowly. The Kenya Tea Development Authority has sought the services of Surajit Ghose, a renowned international scientist on tea matters from India who has catapulted Indian tea to the global market in record time thanks to technology in tea leaf sampling.

Currently he is  a committe member and Engineer of Tea Research of India and accredited evaluator of technical development proposals for Tea Board of India.

According to Ghose, tea quality changes every other time as crop grows new leafs and that change had not been controlled for any better since most of those manning processing plants had stuck to one system of tea testing for many years without coming out with a solution that was 100 per cent correct.

Ghose who has been KTDA advertizer for more than ten years has been conducting a series of seminars at some of the major tea-producing institutions and zones in the country.
And in partnership with KTDA, Ghose has introduced a tea sampling instrument in Kericho . The equipment, an electronic tongue for tea along with a sensor development hub for the monitoring instruments, assists in the analysis of flavor compounds present in tea by specifically measuring the concentration of a class of compounds in tea called theaflavins that contribute to the astringency and brightness of tea.

According to Mr Ghose tea industry has heavily relied on human controls for all its operations which has ultimately lowered averaging quality results that could have been expected from the plucked leaves. He further adds that the situation becomes complicated because the composition and character of a leaf shoot varies widely from the tip of the bud to the toe of the shoot thus the need for precise sampling technology.

"As tea had become an industry where today the need for Tea Technologists are in 1000s both in operation & engineering departments of the factory. The old method of knowledge transfer without institutions playing big roles in the development of end products in a mass scale is not there at all" Mr Ghose said.

The use of technology has been embraced by global tea producing countries keen on embracing quality and precision. For example when Chinese researchers used an electronic tongue to test five different types of green tea they claimed that it could “could discriminate all of the samples very well.”

Written by Dominic Wandati for African Laughter