Rwanda is a land of soaring heat, blanketing humidity, and rolling hills. How much of each? So much heat that the average annual temperature is around 75 F. So much ambient humidity that the country has two rainy seasons and is known as the lightening capital of the world. So many hills that in the local language, Kinyarwanda, it is called "the land of a thousand hills." If you think this sounds like the perfect conflation of factors for growing tea, you'd be right.
It was exactly that thought that led an American named Joe Wertheim to Rwanda to purchase Rukeri Estate in the mid-1970's. The estate was first cultivated for tea by Europeans back in the 60's and like the rest of the Rwanda tea industry at the time it was modest in size. Over the years, as Wertheim and his company weathered the ups and downs of life in Rwanda, the estate grew and prospered. A good reason for this was the belief that growing tea was more than a way to make money for the company—it could help strengthen the Rwandan economy, and thus improve the stability of daily life for everyone, from field workers to management. This vision spread throughout the industry to great effect—in 2002, with 15,000 tons produced, tea became Rwanda's largest export and one of the largest employing sectors in the country.
While Rukeri has about 2500 acres under tea, the factory also purchases a large quantity of tea from small-hold farmers in the surrounding districts. This system provides the factory with the bulk leaf it needs and importantly, provides the local farmers with a sustainable source of income to feed and support their family. One of the great things about tea in this type of situation is that it is a continuous crop and grows all year. The factory at Rukeri is a large local employer itself, proving jobs for almost 400 people. These excellent practices have earned Rukeri a well-deserved Free Trade certification.
And what of the tea? Rukeri's annual output stands at about 3000 tons, or 3 million kilos, and is considered by many in the industry to be one of Africa's best. Comparable to a full-bodied Assam or Kenyan, Rukeri's cup is loaded with hints of malt, molasses, and subtle wine with a delicate, pleasing astringency and full-bodied finish. Each cup brews up coppery, with light reddish highlights and an invigorating aroma. A wonderful cup from an amazing estate, savor the finest of Rwanda today.