Tea kick-starts every day of my life. My daily breakfast is never served without it. In addition, I consume this aromatic beverage for recreational purposes regularly.
In June last year, I published a story sharing my camping experience in the middle of tea plantations. I arrived at the camp hours after sunset. As a result, darkness prevented me from seeing the beauty of the camellia sinensis plant. When I unzipped my tent in the morning, the sight of those sprawling green fields left me speechless.
I had breakfast with the camp manager who told me a touching tea story. The plantations I was admiring sponsored his studies and improved his people’s livelihoods significantly. His testimony, coupled with my lifelong affinity to tea led to a greater appreciation of this product.
I wanted to learn more about tea and its supply chain. Driven by this aspiration, I visited plantations in Nyabihu District but the weather kept me off the field. I left Nyabihu without fulfilling my desire to have a hands-on tea plucking experience but the plan stayed on my bucket list.
A couple of months later, I had another opportunity. This time, I visited Shagasha tea factory in Rusizi District. While at the factory, I participated in the process of converting fresh leaves into my favorite drink.
Before I entered the processing chambers of the factory, I was shown how seeds are germinated and nurtured in the nursery. It was a crash course on the technical details of grooming seeds.
My next move was to participate in the tea plucking exercise. This happened in the plantations owned by cooperatives contracted to supply green leaves to the factory. Members of these cooperatives have been shareholders of Shagasha Tea Company since its privatization in 2012. They are now in the process of acquiring a controlling stake, thanks to a generous investor who is about to transfer his 60% shares to the farmers.
It was a beautiful sunny day. The day I finally rolled up my sleeves and harvested tea. Upon arrival, I was taught how to identify the right shoots to be picked. A tea shoot ready for plucking has an unfurled bud with two or three soft leaves. Following instructions from my guide, I used my right hand’s index finger and thumb to snap one tender leaf after another.
Numerous plantation workers were plucking tea manually but experiments on a less labor-intensive mechanical harvesting were being carried out as well. Picking leaves from their trees sounds easy but the task is done in adherence to specific standards while putting the growth and development of the tree into consideration.
After my first ever tea plucking experiment, I went back to the factory. My next step was to transform the leaves I had plucked into a finished product, ready for consumption. I will share my experiences behind closed doors of Shagasha’s facility through one of my upcoming posts.
In the meantime, let me shut down my computer, grab my cup of tea and enjoy the work of my hands. The tea I brewed in Rusizi is the most revitalizing refreshment I have ever had.