After a couple of days in Kigali, I decided to go back to Gisenyi for a few more days. This time I splashed out on a taxi, as the bus was pretty hardcore. My friend Senga used to be my go-to taxi guy, but he's moved to Mozambique, so his brother, Jado, drove me instead. It was really nice to catch up, and I arrived far more refreshed than last time.
|Sunset behind the northern mountains.|
Spent a lazy couple of days as a lady of leisure, enjoying my friend's house. His staff were really kind, cooking and making coffee. We went back for more apple pie at Serena and had a really nice meal at Lake Side along the beach. Also discovered that giant mushrooms grow up in the hills.
This time, he also showed me around the tea factory. I've seen several tea fields, including the utterly stunning Gisovu garden, but I'd never been inside a processing factory before as it was always a Monday, when they're closed for maintenance, or a holiday. My friend's house is right next to the factory. Every morning you hear the siren go off around 6:30, calling the workers to work, then again for the start and end of lunch - it honestly sounds like an air raid. Throughout the night, the factory fans hum away in the background, drying the leaves ready for processing.
Last time I visited, I saw the painting in his office of the old government-owned factory. This is it in reality, tucked behind the huge modern factory.
|Old factory left, modern factory right.|
The tea arrives by truck from the field and people attach the pickers' bags to a moving overhead conveyor system, which takes them to the troughs on the top two floors. There are a total of 92 troughs. The green leaves are separated out and left to dry there for several hours. The fans help remove the moisture. You can test to see whether the leaves are ready by rolling them into a tight ball and throwing them in the air. If they separate, they're still fresh. If they stay in a ball, they're dry enough for the next part of the process.
|Tea arriving from the field.|
In the next part of the process, the leaves are cut, torn and curled (CTC) using these machines. The result being that the whole leaves are turned into smaller shreds.
Next, they go through a big metal box which slowly oxidises the leaves, turning them brown. They go in one end green, and fall out the other looking more recognisably like tea. This is the step that green tea misses out, and why it keeps its colour.
Then it's down a long conveyor belt and into the driers, which remove the last of the moisture from the leaves. The fumes from the driers leave via giant exhaust chimneys. When tea is being dried, the whole estate smells of it.
Once out of the dryers, it continues its journey along another conveyor belt to the sorting machine.
Tea here comes in four grades, from large grains (BP1) to fine powder, or 'dust'. The sorting machine sifts the grains of tea through a set of mesh drays to separate the grain sizes into buckets.
The machine also has a set of electromagnetic rollers, which use a static charge to lift the chaff from the leaves. That's any errant pieces of bark or twigs that were collected during the picking process. It's disposed of in a separate bucket.
Then, the tea is stored in large silos and packaged according to grade.
Ready to be put on a truck and driven to Mombasa, where it's shipped around the world. A lot of Rwandan tea ends up in Yorkshire Tea.
Then it was off for a tea tasting session. The team at Pfunda taste the tea every hour to check the quality. The grains go from large (BP1) on the left, to dust on the right. The smaller the grains, the stronger the tea. Large-grain tea is more popular in India, whilst the British prefer small-grain, strong brews. The size of the grain is checked, the colour of the steeped leaves, and then the colour and taste of the brew itself. Like wine tasting, you swill the tea around your mouth, then spit it out.
I'll write about the rest of my stay in Gisenyi in the next post, as this one's long enough, but the day after I returned to Kigali, my friend stayed over as he had a workshop nearby. There is a singular sort of self-consciousness involved in making a morning cuppa for someone who tastes tea for a living. He immediately knew it wasn't Pfunda tea, but from an earlier stock he'd given me from Gisovu. Next time, I'm making coffee.