I occupied a table placed on the verandah of Café Camellia amidst the splendid décor of green camellia flowers. As I sipped some tea, I reminisced my past experiences tracing the genesis of this aromatic beverage.
Outside the building, the view of some of the most eye-catching landmarks in Kigali was breathtaking. It was a couple of hours after sunset. Darkness had already enveloped my village located in the remotest part of the Western Province but the bright lights of Kigali shone brilliantly.
The Kigali Convention Center’s conference dome, bearing the shape of a traditional house, was illuminating in a striking display of the Rwandan flag’s colors. Farther ahead, the hills I barely recognized looked like piles of diamond-sprinkled alps soaring to the sky in darkness.
I enjoyed the panoramic view of the city for a while before my mind drifted back to the cup I was holding and the tea contained therein. I felt like I was renewing my vows with tea. Tea kick starts every day of my life. My daily breakfast is never served without it. In addition, I consume it for recreational purposes regularly.
I once camped in the middle of those sprawling tea fields bordering Nyungwe National Park in Nyamagabe District. When I unzipped my tent in the morning, the sight of the surrounding camellia sinensis plant left me speechless.
Before I left the camp, I had breakfast with the manager who told me a touching tea story. Turns out, the crop I was gazing at sent him to school and improved the welfare of his entire community significantly. His testimony strengthened my already solid bond with this product.
I wanted to learn more about tea and its supply chain. Driven by this aspiration, I visited plantations in Nyabihu District but persistent showers kept me off the field. Those who do it for a living had reported for duty hours before my arrival. They were busy doing what they do every day, come rain, come shine. I left Nyabihu without fulfilling my desire to learn the art of harvesting tea but the plan stayed on my bucket list.
A few months down the line, I got another opportunity. This time, I visited Shagasha Tea Company in Rusizi District. I was given a crash course on the technical aspects of germinating seeds and nurturing the sprouting tender trees. Then I went to the field, rolled up my sleeves and plucked green leaves.
I was taught how to identify the right leaves to be picked. A mature tree has an unfurled bud with two or three off shoots. Under a watchful eye of my instructor, I used my index finger to snap one leaf after another.
Finally, I put on a white laboratory coat and stepped on the germ-killing liquid concoction before entering the factory. While inside the factory, I processed my own tea. Processing tea is a complex operation. The experience made me acquainted with four major stages of tea production — plucking, withering, fermenting and drying. At the end of the day, I tasted my self-made tea.
From the KBC branch of Café Camellia to Paris Saint Germain’s Parc des Princes Stadium, every cup of Rwandan tea consumed is contributing to the socio-economic transformation of communities in Nyamagabe, Nyabihu, Rusizi and elsewhere. It was heartwarming to know that by paying my bill, I was helping those who inspired me to appreciate things I used to take for granted.