30 Dec

Rwandans started growing tea in 1952. For a long time, this iconic crop has been one of the top-ranked generators of foreign currency in the country. Over the years, annual production has increased from 60 to 30,000 metric tons. There are currently 24,000 hectares of tea and 18 factories in Rwanda. The growth of the highly organized sub-sector has led to the formation of 21 cooperatives and a couple of companies providing outgrowing services. 

Tea is grown on highlands and well-drained marshlands between 1,500 and 2,500 meters above sea level. Highlands and well-drained marshlands describe the Land of 1,000 Hills pretty accurately. No wonder the famed green crop covers tens of thousands of hectares in Rwanda.

During my memorable tour of Nyamasheke, I visited two tea factories owned by Rwanda Mountain Tea. The two investments, namely Gisakura and Gatare, are found on the edge of Nyungwe Forest. For the record, the mountain rainforest is surrounded by sprawling tea plantations. 

My tour was designed to provide a hands-on experience for the benefit of a curious tourist. This tailor-made excursion made me acquainted with the supply chain of the world's second-most consumed drink, behind water.

In the morning, I rolled up my sleeves and plucked leaves. Then I donned a white laboratory coat and reported for duty at the green leaf reception. After a visual inspection procedure, known as leaf analysis, I delved into a detailed step-by-step processing journey.   

Finally, I popped into the tasting room. Also known as cupping, tasting is the best way to determine the quality of the final product. While processing is aided by different machines, tasting relies on human sensory organs.   

Under a watchful eye of Stephen Wahome, the factory manager, I used a spoon to fetch freshly brewed tea and slurped it into my mouth. Then I sensed my tongues' taste receptors before spitting the sample into a spittoon. The tasting experiment gave me a better understanding of the criteria used by producers to grade their products.  

As Rwanda positions herself as an investment magnet, more and more chunks of land are expected to be converted into tea plantations. 

Nyamasheke District lies between Lake Kivu and Nyungwe Forest. While the lakeside part is ideal for the production of coffee, the mountainous areas near the rainforest are expansive tea zones. The two popular products promote Rwanda abroad and transform livelihoods in the local communities. In the tourism sector, crop-to-cup coffee and tea experiences are contributing to product diversification.  

As a regular consumer of both beverages, I was eager to find out what happens before the finished products are placed on the shelves of supermarkets. I found answers in Nyamasheke.