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Let’s talk about tea

Let’s talk about tea

Date: February 11, 2020
Location: Gasabo District

I occupied a table placed on the verandah of Café Camellia on the first floor of Kigali Business Center (KBC). While waiting for my tea to be delivered, I reminisced about my previous experiences tracing the genesis of this aromatic beverage.

Outside the building, the view of some of the most imposing landmarks in Kigali was breathtaking. It was a couple of hours after sunset. By then, darkness had already enveloped my village in the remotest part of the Western Province. In Kigali, the towering street lights were shining brightly.

The Kigali Convention Center’s dome, whose designer was inspired by a traditional house, was illuminating in a striking display of the Rwandan flag’s colors. Farther ahead, hilly suburbs looked like diamond-sprinkled elevations.

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.

Date: June 17, 2018
Location: Nyamagabe District

When I unzipped my tent in the morning, the sight of the surrounding camellia sinensis plant took my breath away. This happened when I camped on the edge of the sprawling tea plantations bordering Nyungwe National Park.

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. His testimony strengthened my already solid bond with this product.

Date: November 16, 2018
Location: Nyabihu District

I wanted to learn more about tea and its supply chain. Driven by this aspiration, I visited plantations in Bigogwe 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 Bigogwe without fulfilling my desire to learn the art of harvesting tea but the plan stayed on my bucket list.

Date: February 02, 2019
Location: Rusizi District

My dream finally came true. I had visited Shagasha Tea Company in the Western Province. Upon arrival, 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.

July 12, 2021
Location: Nyamasheke District

It was a beautiful sunny day at Gisakura tea estate. The beauty of the green crops, coupled with the backdrop of equally green hills and the lush Nyungwe forest’s cover, gave me extra motivation to fill the basket hanging on my back.

After gaining more experience in plucking tea, I was introduced to Mr. Stephen Wahome, the factory manager. What followed was a crash course tailored around five main stages of processing tea: withering, rolling, oxidation, drying and sorting.

Before I left the factory, I was taught how to taste tea. Tasting is done in order to determine the quality of the final product. A number of factors lead to the differences in flavor and appearance. These include climatic conditions, topography and the degree of oxidation.

Also known as cupping, tasting is the best way to distinguish different qualities and establish quality control. While processing is aided by different machines, tasting relies on the natural power of the tongue and other sensory organs.

Following instructions from the manager, I used a spoon to fetch brewed tea and slurped it into my mouth. While doing so, I puffed in some oxygen as well.

One sample at a time, I sensed the findings of my tongue’s taste receptors before spitting the liquid into a spittoon. The tasting experience gave me a better understanding of the criteria used by tea companies to place value on their products.

The author is an adventurer on a tour of all 30 districts and 416 sectors of Rwanda. Follow his awe-inspiring expeditions on Twitter @GeoExposure.

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