Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tea Tasting in Nyungwe


Tea tasting with forest view
Last month post-Indaba, I headed to Uganda and Rwanda with Classic Africa Safaris. The region is one of my favorite destinations in Africa and I was so happy to return to Uganda since my last visit in November 2011...it had been more than 5 years since I was last in Rwanda. Stay tuned for my complete trip report, but today I wanted to share a highlight from my time in Rwanda - a tea ceremony at Nyungwe Forest Lodge (the lodge is best experienced on a greater Rwanda itinerary). The entire stay at the lodge was incredible, but the tea ceremony was unexpected and, in my eyes, summarized what a stay at Nyungwe Forest Lodge is all about. A chill 45 minutes at the end of a hectic exploratory trip is always welcome, but when it is focused on sampling export-quality teas from the plantation you are staying on, it's quite the experience.

Philip, tea sommelier
Philip, our waiter extraordinaire and "tea sommelier," at Nyungwe Forest Lodge is truly a details man - I think he's found his calling. He grew up in Burundi with one Rwandan parent and one Burundian parent, and he made it immediately clear that he welcomed any cultural, social or regional questions. The first night he immediately noted our drinks of preference, checked in often without hovering, laughed and smiled easily...here I go, getting side-tracked again. This isn't my trip report, but rather a blog post on our tea tasting. Needless to say, the service at Nyungwe Forest Lodge was great.

Back to the point. Philip carried out our tea ceremony which, lucky us, was a private venture with just two of us listening to Philip describe, with great enthusiasm, the process of making tea - straight from the plantation we were looking at out the adjacent window. Talk about local.

Various varieties of tea leaves
We settled on cozy pillows on the floor (there are lovely couches, but we found the pillows more inviting) in the chic, but regionally appropriate lounge in the main building at Nyungwe Lodge. Philip re-introduced himself and explained a little bit about the surrounding tea plantation (it isn't Rwanda's top tea growing area, but exports to the Horn of Africa and to the UK), before setting up the beautiful glassware pots, individually heated by a flame, egg timer next to each one to guarantee the ideal steeping time for that specific variety...oh, and then he brought out an impressive tray of tea-time treats. We'd just eaten lunch two hours earlier, but this is Africa, right?

One of our tea samples
We started by smelling each variety of tea as we learned about the grade, processing and where the tea is exported to. Then we chose three of the five varieties to sample while Philip waxed lyrical on all things tea (including details about the Queen's favorite), prepped tea leaves, poured the hot water and set the timer to ensure the correct steeping time. After completing one variety, he moved on to the next chosen tea. When they had steeped for the appropriate time, we sampled each and Philip then told us to pick which we'd like our first cup of. After deciding, he dismissed himself and left us to enjoy the remainder of the tea and snacks. It was such a simple, thoughtful experience that was completely about the moment, the context of where we were and the lush green tea leaves that surrounded the lodge overlooking an incredibly wild forest.

Ask Classic Africa Safaris how to best incorporate a stay at Nyungwe Forest Lodge in your client's itinerary - we recommend a full 10-day circuit that includes Kigali, Nyungwe, Lake Kivu and gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park.

Photos copyright Lyndsay Harshman/Kusini Collection

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