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Our leaf tea is sourced direct from the Pfunda Tea Company (PTC), who are based in the Northern province of Rwanda and only a few kilometres from the Congo border and next to the massive Lake Kivu. This high mountainous range of very fertile volcanic soil is ideal for producing superb tea bushes. The plantation is huge measuring some 40 kilometres by 20 kilometres wide – an area the size of Surrey. The plantation is home to around 2000 different co-operatives and their families who work the fields, picking the leaf every nine days on a strict rotation system.
Due to the very high quality of soil, excellent climate and high rainfall throughout the year, Rwanda is well known for being one of the world’s finest tea producers. Leaf Tea is returned to factory for processing on a daily basis. 152 people currently live and work in the compound of the factory and through significant investment since 2004, live in extremely good working conditions, excellent surroundings with school, play areas and medical facilities available on site.
All Pfunda tea is now fully Rain Forest Alliance certified and the factory has gained very high accreditation marks for the quality of their tea as well as the ongoing sustainability projects which ensure that all those working within the factory and the fields are well cared for and fairly paid.
As part of our ongoing investment with PTC, Hallmark Vending and our partner the Point Foundation has 15 orphaned children who live at the Noel Orphanage working at PTC on internships and apprentice schemes covering training in trades such as plumbing, electrics, maintenance, metalwork & welding as well as office based jobs such as accountancy and book keeping.
Once the leaf has been through the process of turning it into tea, it is then graded, bagged and shipped by road to the port of Mombassa in Kenya in readiness for export to the world markets including India, Pakistan, Egypt, Middle East and of course the UK. A storyboard on how the Pfunda tea is cultivated and then processed is attached together with details on some of the work the Point Foundation carries out in Rwanda with projects like the Noel, Kimisagra and Gisimba orphanages totalling over 1000 children from 0 to 20 years of age.
General Manager of Pfunda Tea, Mr Amar Shaw, speaking on behalf of the factory workforce and the co-operatives says: “Since taking over in 2004, we have been able to treble production through careful management and introducing efficient ways of producing the finest leaf tea. This has had the knock on effect of trebling the number of co-operatives and their families working with us. We have been able to re-invest significantly not only in the production facilities but also in the workers living conditions which are now widely regarded as some of the best in East Africa. Achieving very high marks in the Rain Forest Alliance Accreditation has shown all our work is paying off, however we continue to strive for even better quality tea and are confident this will develop”
Tracing Leaf to Tea to Cup in Rwanda
Pfunda Tea Factory – The first stage
Rwanda is a truly astonishing country with the most amazing and quite stunning landscape. The country is so clean and the people so friendly that you easily forget how much turmoil the country was in just a few years ago. Today, while still extremely poor, the people are very proud, extremely hard working and hospitable. They also produce some of the world’s greatest tea as we shall see from our visit to the Pfunda tea factory. Situated about 4 hours drive from the capital Kigali, the northern part of the estate borders Congo, which today has its own problems and is the midst of civil war.
Pfunda Tea Factory On entering the tea factory by the security gate, you are welcomed by a smart unformed guard saluting you. You immediately notice how well organised, clean and tidy the site is with white lined trees, immaculate edges, freshly cut grass and wonderfully colourful flower beds, all neatly arranged around a large number of “mother” tea bushes. The whole complex is vastly different from when it was taken over back in November 2004 from being Government controlled to Imporient ownership. Around 150 people are employed on site working 8 hour shifts day and night.
In the last two and a half years over a million US$ have been invested in the plant and the difference has been immeasurable in providing not only a superb factory capable of seriously increasing green leaf production, but also introducing new employment and improved infrastructure to the area and bringing well being into the local community. Workers children now live in a secure community with a roof over their heads in place of make shift tents. School is now provided although at a cost
Charles Trace with Employees Children
Each afternoon the green leaf is brought into the factory from the fields where it has been freshly plucked that morning. The actual tea estate covers a huge area almost 40 kilometres in length and 20 kilometres wide. Millions of tea bushes are carefully cultivated and each one is plucked every 8 to 9 days. The bushes themselves are beautifully manicured through the correct hand plucking of the leaf, bud and tender stem. After each picking the leaves are carefully carried to a weighing station where the morning’s collection is weighed and recorded so that payment can be made.
Green Leaf Tea The “Perfect Pick” – P+2 = 2 leaf and 1 bud
Quality is absolutely paramount and each sector has a specialist inspector called an Agronomist who checks each area of plantation as well as the picked leaves. Each of the 9 sectors is run by a Cooperative, all working together, to gather as high a quality and volume of leaf. Each plucker is paid an incentive for gathering the best leaf. The aim of the inspectors is to ensure that at least 70% of the plucked leaf meets the top grade of P+2. Pfunda achieves this status regularly with the average tea plantation only gaining around 60% of the top grade. The 5 Cooperatives support around 2500 families living in the area, and is one of the biggest employers in the region.
Lorries arrive at the factory around 11am packed high with the green leaf in the collection sacks used by the tea plucker’s where each load is meticulously weighed and recorded. A quality inspector checks each sack again before it goes onto to the mono rail that take the bags up to the withering troughs. Here the leaf is hand rolled into huge troughs where over a period of 16 to 18 hours the moisture content of the leaf is reduced by 30%. This is done by fanning air through the base of the trough, (under the mesh on which the green leaf rests). Once the quality inspector (Tea Maker - Ernest) is satisfied, the trough is emptied and the leaves taken down by conveyor to the cutting rooms.
Tea Weighing Station The Start of the Factory Process
Withering the Fresh Tea in huge troughs that are dried by air
Once again quality is paramount and prior to passing through the CTC machines the Leaves are first passed through a ‘sifter’ that removes any foreign objects such as stones/gravel from the tea leaves, before they enter the 4 CTC (cut, tear and curl) machines. The Pfunda tea factory is unique in that, unlike other tea producers in Rwanda who only use three cuts, Pfunda uses 4 cuts during the CTC (cut, tear and curl) process. This enables a more gentle cut to be made at each stage whilst also ensuring a far superior quality cut is obtained before the leaf moves to the fermentation stage.
Cut, Tear, Curl Machine in full flow Wood Boiler burning large quantities of Eucalyptus
Fermentation Process The complexity of tea making becomes very apparent and it depends very heavily on the weather conditions as to how long the fermentation process takes and how much air is used to cool the oxidising leaf. This “push pull” process, as it is called, allows the air to turn the finely cut leaf from bright green to a bright golden brown. Once this process is complete the fermented/oxidised leaves go through a ‘ball breaker’ that removes any lumps before the leaf enters the dryer, (which is heated between 145 and 155 degrees). This is done to arrest the oxidation process and ensure the quality is captured in a way that allows it to be kept for a reasonable period of time. At this point the tea is now black in appearance and referred to as ‘made tea’. As it leaves the dryer this ‘Made Tea’ is at it’s very best and will only deteriorate over time. It is therefore important to get this made tea to market and into the consumer’ cup as soon as possible.
The warm air radiators and the dryers are all heated by steam, generated by a huge wood boiler. This consumes vast quantities of Eucalyptus, which is the best natural and sustainable material, as it is grown locally on the estate especially for the process. Eucalyptus is an extremely fast growing tree with a tree being mature in only six years. As a general rule 1 hectare of Eucalyptus forest is needed to ensure there is enough wood produced to fuel the boiler and meet the steam requirements needed to process the leaf that will be harvested from 3 hectares of tea, and therefore both are grown side by side,
David Graham – Chairman of Imporient checking the Roasted Tea After drying the richly coloured and fragrant leaf (known as dryer mouth tea) is sorted into different sized grades. Sorting machines also ensure that any stalk or tea dust is removed from the ‘dryer mouth’ tea. This ‘cleaning’ process makes sure that the tea is now of the highest quality in terms of taste, texture and aroma.
Grades are accumulated and then packed –packed tea of the same production run / grade are numbered and are then collectively called an ‘invoice’ of tea. An invoice of tea is typically made up of 40 sacks of 68+/- kilos of tea. The final graded tea is put through special hoppers and into special four ply alufoil lined sacks that are used to transport the tea to the Mombasa warehouse for onward delivery to clients. It is vital that the whole “invoice” tastes the same. Quality control samples are taken for checking at each stage of the packing process once the “invoice” is complete the sacks are hand stacked in groups of 20 (per pallet) ready for shipping. There are no Fork lifts used in the factory.
All tea is transported in air tight and securely locked containers to Mombassa – a 10 day journey from Rwanda through Uganda and Kenya to this busy sea port where the Imporient warehouse is located.
It takes years to build a reputation but all this can be lost in one day if an “invoice” goes wrong, so at the final grading stage the teas are taken into the tasting and quality control room. Here they are fully tasted and marked by highly trained specialist tea tasters. What is incredible is that the factory is absolutely spotless. During the whole process from field to sack, there can be no smells, bacteria or any type of foreign matter in the factory as this can immediately ruin the whole days production. At the end of every shift, all the withering troughs, cutting machines, and fermenting trolleys are washed out, cleaned and then made ready for the next shift.
No Fork Lift – 65kg Weight Tea Tasting –
every batch personally tasted
Loading the Tea – By Hand in readiness for 10 day journey to Mombassa
The Pfunda tea factory is totally self sufficient with repair shops and maintenance gangs - every conceivable piece of machinery is maintained on site and where required rebuilt within their own workshops. In order to ensure that the cutting process is maintained at the highest level, each of the CTC rollers are removed and go through a 5 hour re-sharpening process to keep the blades in first class condition.
Eucalyptus Store – 1 hectare of wood to 3 hectares of tea produced
The Pfunda tea factory has made a major impact on the local community since it was taken over in 2004. The buildings were in a poor state of repair and many of the workers lived in make shift tents that lined the entrance to the factory. There was hardly any sanitisation or toilets. Today huge investment has gone into rebuilding the site, installing new machinery and over the next few days a new wood fuelled boiler is to be installed that significantly improves the efficiency of heating as well as being more environmentally friendly.
New Toilet Block – an exceptional investment
for the workers on site
Employees Housing – roofs now replaces tents The make shift tents have long gone and now staff housing is being renovated as well as the surrounding area that will eventually see open spaces created for vegetable patches, gardens and a children’s play park. The old canteen is being re-furbished to guest quarters and unbelievably for this area, a basketball pitch has been created to provide some after work leisure activities.
A brand new toilet block has been opened for men and women with hot showers available – the heating of which comes from their own power generated by the factory boiler on site. The staff are so proud of their new facilities and the block is kept immaculate by an site team.
Men’s Toilets – replaces
holes in the ground
Surrounding Gardens with mother tea bushes
Travelling to the Mombassa office from Pfunda takes a full day with a four hour drive to Kigali and then flights to Nairobi and onward to Mombassa. This busy port is still home to the Kenyan tea and coffee trade with warehousing, tasting and the auction houses.
Imporient’s offices are sited across a busy street from the warehouse. They contain not only all the administration teams and the shipping clerks but also the tasting rooms where upwards of 300 different blends of tea are tasted each day.
L.A.B. – Imporient Offices Tea Tipping and blending –
called “Over the shoulder”
The massive warehouse stores all the teas waiting to be exported to countries as far a field as the UK, Egypt, Russia, Pakistan and the middle east. Apart from storage the warehouse also provides cover for the blending of the various teas that go into the various brands. Each day, teams of men blend the tea by hand. Around 20 tons of tea are “tipped” onto the floor and some 20 men shovel the tea into a huge cone shape and then back into a huge circle. This “tipping” process may be repeated several times and the air is thick with the tea dust and wonderful fragrances. Blending by hand has been done for centuries and continues to this day because blending by machine simply does not get the same quality results.
Once fully blended the tea is sent through one final sieving machine to ensure absolutely no stalks or other impurities are mixed in and then it goes into large hoppers ready for packing and sealing.
At all stages quality control inspectors are measuring standards and quality and texture. “Masai” is the quality inspector and as he has proved himself as a Masai warrior by killing a lion with a spear – nobody dares argue with him!!!
Masai – Quality Control
Quality control still doesn’t stop here at the factory. Once the goods are fully packed and delivered into the port, the whole consignment undergoes final random testing at the Ports Authority Public Health department before finally being loaded on route for the UK and Imporients distribution centres.
The whole process from picking of leaf to delivery, is around a month ensuring true freshness. Other tea producers average 3 months from picking to final destination.
Packing Tea with Daniel Graham of
Imporient prior to shipment to UK
The Noel Orphanage
in Pfunda Rwanda
Just opposite the Pfunda Tea Factory is the Noel Orphanage, which houses 634 children ranging from new born to 18 years of age. The genocide years have certainly taken their toll on the lost children of Rwanda with many of them severely disabled and mentally ill and thus confined to living in institutions around the country. Aids is not such a problem in Rwanda, as it is in other parts of Africa. Here only some 3% of the population is affected.
The Noel Orphanage is currently funded by the Catholic Church to the tune of around £120,000 per annum but for some reason this extraordinary funding will stop in September this year. This is a disastrous situation to be in, as the children, many of whom know no other life outside of the orphanage, have no where to go if it closes down. Immediate funding and help is required if they are to have a future. It costs just 54p a day to house, school and feed each child as well as provide medical supplies.
The Pfunda tea factory does help with funding for the orphanage but only to a small extent. Their help and support from across the road is equally important but this does not pay the enormous food bills!!.
On arriving at the orphanage we were very warmly greeted by all the children who despite their predicament were very happy to see us. They looked clean, cared for and healthy and it is a real credit to the Head Mother and her team of volunteers who have so much to do but with so little support from the outside world.
The greeting was exceptionally The children were fascinated by beards –
warm and heartbreaking they have no facial hair
In The Nursery – new born babies often abandoned at the gate As we visited each house, the children were proud to parade in front of us and sing and dance a welcome song. They were fascinated with our white skins but even more with our soft hair and with my beard, which they all wanted to touch and feel….!!!
Each nursery room houses around 30 babies, some as young as just a few weeks old. On a regular basis, new born babies are simply left at the gates – it is heart-braking to see, but so heart warming when you see the love of the volunteers who take such amazing care of their new charges.
Greeting & Dancing –
they were all so proud
Around 60 children live in each dormitory – three to a bed. Despite the old sheets being hand washed every day – a massive task alone when you consider there are over 220 beds. The dormitory has nothing in apart from old metal bunk beds with thin mattresses. It is extremely smelly, very dark and hot and has no ventilation. I can only sum up their living quarters as “hell on earth”.
Three to a Bed – rancid smell, Making Beds in the Workshop for sale
hot, stuffy and no air
The orphanage tries hard to be as self sufficient as they can with some livestock including cows and goats which provide their daily milk quota. The orphanage lives on a vegetarian diet with no meat, but mainly on home grown vegetables. In order to supplement their income and to help train the older children into a trade, the orphanage has its own wood working shop where furniture is made to sell in the capital Kigali. None of the newly made furniture is kept, it is all sold for extra funds.
The children do attend a local school of sorts. Education in Rwanda and indeed most of Africa is chargeable for the parents or guardians. Some of the older children – still living on site – are trying hard to get into university, a massive feat when you consider their upbringing. University is very expensive in Rwandan terms but to a European, at no more than £1.50 a day, it is the price of ½ a pint of beer.
Considering their circumstances Living Conditions are dreadful
the children are a delight 40 children live in this room
The Point Foundation currently supports the Lilly of the Valley and Makaputo Orphanages in South Africa with both funding, donations of food, clothes and other items as well as with staff visits. In addition to these projects, we supports the Mdudla and Khulani Schools and local community in Hluhuwe in Zwa Zulu Natal. The Noel Orphanage is now being added to the list of projects supported.
Adopted Mothers are true Saints – Washing Lines are everywhere
this child is ill with Aids – 220 beds are cleaned a day