Up bright and early and so well-rested and I arrived at the beautifully kept Sorwathe Tea processing factory at 8.30am for my intensive tour of their CTC (refers to ‘Crush, Tear, and Curl teabag grade tea) and Orthodox production for our loose leaf teas that are hand-picked and processed through traditional methods on machines that mimic hand-rolling.
There was certainly a sense of pride from everyone that showed me around not only from the quality of the teas they produce, but from the immaculate factory and picture postcard grounds. I was greeted by Stanislav, the ‘Teamaker’ with a warm welcoming hug.
Visitors to Suki Tea always comment on the wonderful tea smell that meets them as they are shown around our blending and production warehouses. The smell of freshly plucked leaves being withered, rolled, oxidised and fired was exceptional - you could drink in the air! I wanted to bottle it and take it home with me. You could tell that everyone seemed very proud of their work, the wonderful teas they were producing and the special environment they worked in as they showed me around, explaining all the processes involved and the volumes they produce. The pluckers themselves pick about 50kg per day of wet leaf (just the bud and top 2 leaves are expertly plucked) and generally work from 6.30am to 1.00pm but they will sometimes work on to 4.00pm if the going is good and there is lots to pluck.
After cultivation and harvesting, the green leaf is inspected and weighed before being transported to Sorwathe’s tea factory. Once at the factory, the green leaf tea is processed. Processing involves, withering the green leaf, rolling and cutting, oxidation, drying, stalk extraction, and sorting.
A bit of background - Sorwathe Tea Factory and Plantation (often referred to as Rukeri) is located in the Gicumbi district in Northern Rwanda. The Factory has manufactured black tea since the late 70s, when it sourced all its green leaf from small-scale farmers, known as outgrowers, from the nearby Assopthe Co-operative, which is also Fairtrade certified. In 1983, Sorwathe expanded their operations and began growing its own tea. Today, Sorwathe Factory is the single largest tea producer in Rwanda, producing approximately 15 percent of the country’s tea and employing more than 2,000 workers.
Sorwathe factory produces about 80-90 tonnes a day of CTC tea and approximately 12 tonnes of Orthodox leaf – with approximately 70% of the tea they produce coming from the smallholder Assopthe Co-operative. I was considering our requirement for the year ahead from these gardens for our Earl Grey Blue Flower and Belfast Brew and Breakfast Tea and I totalled approximately 30 tonnes of their Fairtrade tea – an impressive figure for me and the company but one that would take Sorwathe factory about 2.5 days to produce.
Every kilo of this Fairtrade tea has a premium attached and the Plantation workers can use the Premium to tackle poverty, improve the quality of their lives and invest in their futures. I was impressed by their projects which included diversification through pig husbandry, a focus on constructing new schools and nursery schools in particular in the surrounding area. And most impressive, around 10,000 families in the local area have benefited from a Fairtrade Premium project that supplied clean drinking water to the community. The Premium was used to construct a 75,000 litre water tank and to repair and lay water pipes, and I am proud to say that Suki Tea chooses to sell tea that is fairly traded! What a satisfying day at these beautiful tea gardens in Rwanda.