Tea was first planted in Rwanda in the 1920s, but it proved unsuccessful and it was not until the late 1950s tea was re-introduced successfully into the Mulindi valley. During the 1960s, tea growing expanded and, due to the demand for CTC teas for teabags, the industry moved heavily onto this method of production.
After the 1994 genocide, Rwanda continued to produce good black CTC teas and, with governmental help, the industry expanded. Up until 2004, all the factories were owned by the state but now, with the recognition of the need to invest and grow, all the tea factories have gone into private ownership.
The majority of tea is produced by small scale farmers who produce over 65% of the country’s tea leaves and sell them on to company owned factories. Tea production continues all year round due to the closeness of the country to the equator and the teas are categorised as Valley or Hill tea, according to where they are grown.
Valley tea is grown at low elevation on reclaimed marshlands, where the tea bushes grow fast in the warm humidity and possess a full-bodied and rich flavour, are a deep coppery hue but are not of the quality of hill teas. The misty, cooler air means the hill teas grow slower on the fertile mountain slopes developing flavours which are smooth, rich and full bodied with hints of malt and molasses surpassing the valley teas in quality.
The majority of teas are CTC produced although, as in other African countries, some estates are now experimenting with growing orthodox produced teas as well as green and white teas. Ninety nine percent of the tea grown is now exported and is a vital cash crop for Rwanda.