Gisovu Tea Estate in Nyungwe Forest National Park: The Gisovu Tea Estate, tucked away at the extreme northern border of Nyungwe National Park, is right up against the primeval Nyungwe forest, where the immaculate rows of tea make a strong contrast with the natural forest foliage immediately behind them.
After a tour of the grounds and the cupping ritual, visitors with time to spare may unwind here, mountain bike around the grounds, or simply soak up the calm over never-ending cups of the world’s best tea.
Tea is grown on big estates for the most part, with a modest contribution from tea cooperatives and independent producers. Tea plantations blanket the undulating hills, their deep green a stark contrast to the azure skies, gravel roads, and sunshine.
A dozen tea factories dot the land, processing tea leaves. Handfuls are available to the public, allowing visitors to learn how tea is gathered and processed, as well as taste the finished product.
When was tea introduced to Rwanda?
Tea was first introduced to Rwanda in 1952 and is now one of the country’s most important exports. The fertile volcanic soil and mild temperature provide ideal growth conditions for tea.
Where is tea grown in Rwanda?
Tea plantation trips are available across Rwanda, with the most popular being in Nyungwe National Park — Gisoyu and Gisakura. Other tea growing areas in Rwanda include Kibuye, Rubavu, Gikongoro, Cyangugu, Byumba, Butera, Musanze, Rubaya, Nyamasheke and Nyaruguru to mention but a few.
Tea factories in Rwanda include; Rwanda Mountain Tea, Kitabi tea factory, Mata tea factory, Gisakura tea factory and Mulindi tea factory. Tea production in Rwanda has increased from 5,414 tons in 1995 to over 23,000 tons by 2010.
What makes Rwandan tea unique?
The volcanic soils and high altitude create unique growth conditions that distinguish Rwandan tea. When the sun shines, the tea plants sparkle with a golden light, illuminating the landscape and translating into a rich golden liquid in the cup—exactly what you need to relax after a long and adventurous day exploring Nyungwe Forest national park.
Tea Tours in Nyungwe Forest National Park
All tea plantations tours take about 3 to 4 hours or more if you are not in the hurry to get back to your hotel. Though, you can request for the tour to take about 2 hours if you are really tight up on time. All tea tours in Nyungwe forest national park are not directly organized by the tea estates but through the park directly or a through trusted tour operator company.
How is tea from Gisovu tea estate produce?
The tea making process in Gisovu tea estate includes; harvesting, steaming, shaping, drying, packaging for exportation and domestic consumption.
- Harvesting Tea Leaves from Gisovu Tea Estate
First, you must choose which leaves to gather. In the spring and summer, you should observe a new ‘flush’ (a harvest in tea parlance is a flush) of young leaves, which are ideal for tea production and highly valued by tea producers. Pick the two youngest leaves and the bud of each branch to create a little pile of soft, fresh leaves to work with.
- Steaming Tea Leaves
The leaves will then be heated by steaming. A steamer is ideal, but a colander over a pan of boiling water would suffice. Steam for 1-2 minutes. The leaves should begin to droop and develop an olive green color. When steaming, be cautious not to overcook the leaves; instead, keep an eye on their color while also ‘scrunching’ them in their fabric. You should never have the temperature of the bundles so high that you can’t handle them properly, and by feeling for them to go limp, you’ll know they’re ready for the next stage.
- Shaping and Oxidation
So you’re staring at a limp olive green ball of leaves that’s warm to the touch yet cool enough to knead, similar to bread. If you don’t want to knead the leaf, a sushi mat works great for this to get them smooth and even, but you can also roll them between your palms – shaping them into thin tubular forms and as you do so, this breaks down the chemistry inside the leaf that gives your tea its flavor.
NOTE: The enzymes you’re activating will interact with the waxy outer surface to make caffeine. Remove the wax from the leaf before steaming if you want to produce caffeine-free tea.
- Drying Tea
This step in the tea preparation process can be completed in two ways: pan frying or oven baking.
Drying Tea by Pan Frying
Dry the leaves in a pan by tossing them constantly and inspecting them with your hands to ensure they don’t burn. A heated oven, on the other hand, would definitely suit somebody who isn’t used to such “hands-on” cooking.
Drying Tea by Oven Baking
If using an oven, bake the rolled leaves for 10-12 minutes, turning halfway through, on a baking pan prepared to 100°C. Again, take care not to burn them, and then allow cooling and drying them a little more.
- Packaging for Exportation and Domestic Consumption
At this stage, tea is packaged for exportation. Major importers of Rwanda’s tea being Pakistan, Kenya, Middle East, United Kingdom, and Kazakhstan among others.
Other Activities to Combine with Tea Tours in Nyungwe Forest National Park.
Tea tours in Nyungwe forest national park can be combined with chimpanzee trekking, primate tracking, canopy walk, guided nature walks, hiking, birding and the Congo Divide Trail Hike.
Tea tours in Nyungwe forest national park can also be combined with gorilla trekking safari in Volcanoes national park, Kigali city tour or wildlife viewing in Akagera national park.