How do you drink your tea? Black or green? Strong or weak? Do you take the bitter with sweet? Or with milk perhaps? No matter how you sip your tea, all tea devotees can enjoy their perfect cup at Sorwathe plantation, tea factory and guesthouse in Kinihira, about 70km north of Kigali.

It is a pleasant drive, less than two hours from Kigali, with views over hills and tea plantations and upon leaving the main road, quirky teapot signs show the way to the estate.

Upon arrival, guests are welcomed with – what else? – a hot tea service. The 10-room guest house is situated on the premises of the factory amidst a lavish flower garden. From here it is an easy stroll to the factory and plantations. The food is excellent and if weather permits, you can enjoy all meals on the large balcony which offers beautiful views. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, suitable for families, and there is a tennis court, a dart board and even a billiards room to spend a rainy day. 

Sorwathe guest house

Show-and-tell

Although it is tempting to lounge all day on the balcony or in the garden, enjoying the views or just reading a book, we highly recommend taking part in the factory tour and tea tasting. 

View from Sorwathe guest house
Sorwathe tea factory and guest house

Factory tours usually start in the morning around 10am, when the tea has been freshly plucked and is ready to be processed. There are three factories located on the premises, one for green tea, one for CTC (“crush-tear-curl”) which is used mostly in tea-bags and one “orthodox” factory for traditional rolled, whole-leaf tea. The guided tour provides an excellent show-and-tell of all the stages of the tea making process: plucking, withering or steaming, rolling or crushing, fermenting, drying, sorting, packaging, storing and transporting.

Different stages of tea

Organic

After coffee, tea is Rwanda’s most important export.  Tea cultivation began here in 1952, and Sorwathe, which stands for Société Rwandais de The,was the first private factory in the country. It was also the first to start organic tea cultivation in Rwanda. Most of Sorwathe’s production is for export purposes and they are one of the largest tea producers in Rwanda, with 3.6 million kilograms produced last year.

tea plantation

The company owns 284 hectare of organic tea plantations and manages another 1100 hectare of land belonging to cooperatives. In total they handle more than 1 billion tea plants and the number is growing.  Sorwathe creates thousands of job opportunities in the region and supports the local communities further by managing their land, building schools, pre-schools and sponsoring self-generating income programs, with pigs, cows and goats. 

If time allows, hike, or if you don’t like the exercise, drive around the plantations to enjoy the breath-taking scenery.  Along the way you will pass eucalyptus tree plantations, – the timber is used to fire the boilers of the factory – but after that it is mostly tea, tea and tea. Beautiful bright green tea plants as far as the eyes can see, with weighing stations scattered along the narrow paths, where the pluckers take their bags to be weighed. Did you know that tea is actually a tree that can grow four meters high? The plants are pruned short to make it easier to pick the leaves. On the estate you will find several beautiful fully-grown tea trees as well.

Tea pluckers at the weighing station

Aroma

During the tea tasting, you are presented with ten cups of cold tea, ranging from strong black tea, flowery orange pekoe to green, white and silvertip tea. This is a great way to appreciate the subtle differences in aroma and taste. The character of tea, like wine, is influenced by the elevation of the plants, the soil, wind conditions and temperature and, the quality of the plucking. The highest quality tea comes from the hill sides, the stress factor of the high altitude on the leaves, brings a better aroma. After a tasting session, who knows you might change your mind about which is your favorite tea.

Sorwathe tea tasting

So, next time you put the kettle on for a cupper, just stop to think about all the effort that was put into making that single tea bag.

For inquiries about Sorwathe, please call (+250) 788 300 532 or send an email to sorwathe@gmail.com

This article was published in The Weekender Rwanda in Februari 2019