Malagasy people are not avid tea drinkers and that is why only 20% of Sahambavy's tea production is sufficient for the whole country. There is a single plantation, yet Malagasy tea is of very good quality and is an excellent export product! In any case, a visit to the Sahambavy tea plantation is a wonderful experience during a trip to Madagascar!
Access to this beautiful place is difficult, as you would expect it in Madagascar: a 20 km dirt track in eastern Fianarantsoa! It may not be an extreme road, but it is the kind of road that only experienced drivers can travel.
In any case, the tea trucks drivers are impressive! As the tea plantation approaches, the landscape changes abruptly, from bush to green valleys undulating like the sea!
In the middle of this greenery, the factory stands opposite a pretty little lake bordered by overwater hotel rooms. The main attraction, however, is the hundreds of hectares of bright green tea fields! The background is just as magnificent: valleys covered with pine forests, which remind of the Landes in southwestern France.
It seems incredible to think that no one ever seriously thought about tea cultivation in Madagascar before the 1970s. And yet, the first attempts to transplant tea cuttings (from Kenya) were only made in 1970, obviously in Sahambavy. The Malagasy government established the first tea production plant there in 1978. The company was privatized in 1996 when Mauritian investors bought 2/3 of the capital.
Here, we pick 20 tons of tea leaves by hand every day! About 250 women are collecting 50 to 100 kg each for a salary of about 2 euros. Sahambavy, which meas "the women's field" in Malagasy, bears its name well! The leaves are then spread on large horizontal dryers for wilting. In the factory, tea goes through several stages:
· grinding / rolling
· fermentation (oxidation)
· drying / roasting
· filtering and packaging
80% of production is exported to Kenya, in Mombasa, one of the world's largest tea markets.
During filtering, the tea is sorted by means of large mechanized sieves. Defibration by an electrostatic process makes it possible to distinguish the grades (types), namely Dust, Pekoe dust, Pekoe fannings, Broken Pekoe. The air is impregnated with the pronounced astringency and acute acidity of the Sahambavy tea! A heady smell fills the factory!
If you are burning for a taste, you will have a chance to do so at the end of the visit. Be careful though! It is a strong tea, quite similar to English tea! A little milk and sugar will soften the taste. For a softer and more balanced tea, make way for Madagascar vanilla tea!