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Rwanda is ranked in the top 30 coffee-producing nations. Its coffee is a relatively new specialty, which is not very popular. Nevertheless, the geo-climatic conditions of the country make it perfect for coffee growing.
A brief history of Rwandan coffee
Rwanda is a landlocked country that is located not so far from Kenya, one of the world’s largest coffee producer. The first coffee plants reached Rwanda in the 20th century. Commercial coffee-growing started about three decades later. In the early colonial days, coffee grown lacked quality. The best quality was grown soon after Rwanda gained full independence.
Even after independence, the coffee industry suffered major crisis both in the coffee world and Rwanda in the 1990s. The industry was in shambles by the turning of the millennium. Farmers did not give up amid the crisis but instead turned to high-end coffees. A National Coffee Strategy was created and eventually reinvented the coffee industry.
In the last there decades, Rwanda has become a top 30 coffee producer in the world. Rwanda exports dozens of million pounds of coffee per year. The largest percentage comes from small farms rather than large estates.
Wandering into Rwanda
Rwanda coffee is best known for its depth and complexity. Coffee is the number one export from Rwanda, and it accounts for 24% of the country’s exports. In 2018, 33,069,000 pounds of green coffee beans were produced, and nearly 100% was exported. Despite the large export volume, Rwanda coffee is scarce in other markets since the largest percentage is destined for Japan market. The net export accounts for an estimated 1% of the world’s coffee.
Before 2017, Rwanda coffee was low-grade and less lucrative. Since the introduction of specialty coffee, the production jumped to 52%. It is estimated to reach 80% of total production in 2020.
Today, 95% of the coffee grown in the highly respected Bourbon Arabica Coffee, which has excellent beans.
Rwandan Coffee Growing Regions
Rwanda has a high altitude, which is suitable for coffee growing. The main coffee growing regions have nitrogen-rich volcanic soils. The main coffee growing regions are Virunga, Kivu, Kizi Rift, Akagera, and Muhazi. Other coffee growing districts in Rwanda include; Gakenke, Rutsiro, Karongi, Nyamasheke, Nyagatare, Kamonyi, Kayonza, Ngoma, Kirehe, Nyamagabe, and Huye.
What makes Rwandan coffee special?
One of the reasons why Rwandan coffee is gaining popularity is because of its favorable growing conditions. Farms are located on mountainsides of between 5,200 and 6,500 feet above sea level. Some farms are also located between 4,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level. The high elevated farms are rich in volcanic soil, get plenty of sunlight, and experience equatorial mist, which favors Arabica coffee growth.
Plants flower in September and October and are harvested and processed from March to July.
Most coffee in Rwanda is wet-processed. The development has resulted in increased production. The washing stations cater for small farms, thus promoting more output. The process entails soaking the beans twice; hence the name double washed or fully washed. It is a prevalent practice in Africa and some parts of Latin America.
Wet processing results to complex flavor profiles, clean, bright, and fruity notes for the Rwandan coffee.
The great taste of Rwandan coffee results from the favorable growing climate and high-quality processing methods. The coffee is creamy, rich with buttery overtime, and caramel aftertaste. It has a light, citrusy flavors with a floral or fruit notes.
Rwandan coffee has several layers of complexity. You will experience different notes of love, cinnamon or nuttiness, or white chocolate. You may also taste some dates or plum notes. The aroma has hints of orange blossom and lemon.
Building of Rwanda
Coffee was introduced in Rwanda by German missionaries in 1904. Growth was slower and peaked in the 1930s after under exploits of the Belgium colonists. During this time, it was mainly high-volume, low-grade coffee production.
The destabilization of colonial rule resulted in the Rwanda Genocide in 1994. In a span of 100 days, over 800,000 people were murdered, and over 250,000 women were raped. The events resulted in the collapse of the economy and coffee industry infrastructure.
Rebuilding of Rwanda
After the Genocide and wars ceased, Rwanda was united and looked for a more improved future. The coffee industry was not left behind. The need to restore their leading cash crop sector resulted in the formation of the Third Wave Coffee Movement. The movement focused on improved coffee production systems.
Organizations such as the Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL) and Sustainable Partnerships to Enhance Rural Enterprises and Agricultural Development (SPERAD, directed by Founder and CEO of Worlds Research Dr. Timothy Schilling) helped in the process.
The journey of coffee production in Rwanda has been impressive in the last decade. It is currently the ninth-largest producer of Arabica coffee in the world and the country’s largest export. Coffee growing has provided a living for over 450,000 small-scale farmers.
Despite the abysmal coverage by western media, Rwanda has experienced positive and tremendous growth in various economic sectors and more so in coffee production. The focus on growing specialty coffee and efforts by National Agricultural Exports Board (NAEB) to teach farmers how to brew their coffee at home has improved the quality.
How to buy
The best buying practices apply for most Rwandan products in the global markets. Most large companies like Coffee Bean Direct that ethically source their products do not have the Rwandan coffee. You are going to buy more directly from smaller companies. You will also have to dig deeper to find out whether the companies exploit their workers
Check out for Fair Trade and Direct Tarde certificates when buying the products. The facets are useful measures of environmentally sustainable practices and social welfare.
Best Rwanda Coffee
Westrock Coffee Company Rwanda Select Reserve
First in our list is this Fair Trade 100% Arabica option from Westrock Coffee Co. The Arkansas based coffee company started promoting sustainable farming through the Agribusiness Training Program. They have expanded their program to 21 different countries.
These dark roasted beans brew a rich, dark-colored cup. It has a smokey cedar flavor with hints of citrus fruit or black currant. The company also used Direct Trade practices to ensure their beans are ethically sourced. This ensures perfect relationships with farmers who produce the crops by fostering an environmentally and socially sustainable cycle.
Cubico Coffee Rwanda Kopakaki Coffee
Kopakaki coffee is grown in the Karongi District in western Rwanda by Cubico Coffee. These Arabica coffee beans are freshly small-batch roasted. They are medium-sized, city roast, and produce a full-bodied brew with notes of limeade and black tea with a winey finish.
Teasia Coffee Rwanda Single-Origin
Teasia coffee is a single-origin and 100% Arabica offering. The beans are grown around Lake Kivu at 5,000 to 6,000 Ft above sea level. Beans are wet-processed and medium-dark roasted in artisan roasters.
The resulting brew is rich with a deep finish with clean, bright flavors. Notes of dark chocolate under pleasant caramel aroma tasted. Most packaging happens within 24 hours after roasting.
AmazonFresh Light Roast Rwandan
The coffee is 100% Arabica, and it is a single-origin direct trade. Beans are freshly packaged and shipped through Amazon. The brew is very satisfying with pleasant citrus notes and a very rich aroma.
Starbucks Reserve Coffee Rwanda
In recent years, Starbucks has offered different high-quality Rwandan coffees through its reserve program. Recent offers include Abakundakawa (February 2018), Hingakawa (March 2019), and Muhondo (June 2019).
All these small-batch roasted coffees are sourced from small farms. They are fully washed Bourbon variety beans. The beans have received high ratings.
How to brew
The most popular practices for brewing coffee are espresso and drip brewing (pour-overs). There are plenty of varieties to choose from; hence you need to make a perfect choice.
If you prefer a darker roast with stronger, richer overtones, get the tamper and espresso machine to pull a shot. If you want a delicate and intricate cup, go for the Chemex or other pour-over tools for maximum flavor.
The best way to brew these coffees is to use a filter method such as a drip coffee maker or pour-over. The goal is to use a method that is not too intense (like the immersion with French Press). Using a gentler brewing process coaxes the subtle floral and citrusy flavors without over-extraction.
Using a fine grind with Chemex and other drip methods gets you more flavor from the beans.
Best roast types for Rwandan coffee beans
There is a spectrum of options when it comes to roasting Rwanda Coffee. High altitude beans are very dense hence need plenty of heat. Lighter roasts are a more acidic, fruitier flavor profile, which is ideal for a great cup of coffee.
The best tasting coffee is from a good city roast and can proceed to darker options without being ruined.
Fully washed processing for clean coffees
In the past, every farm processed its own coffee and was blended with that from nearby farms. After the reestablishment of the coffee industry, the government and bodies like PEARL have incentivized producers to use the fully washed processing methods. There are 245 washing stations in the country (NAEB, 2015) compared to Sweet Maria’s just one before.
Fully washed coffees are processed differently from the washed coffees. They are soaked twice.
Rwanda is a small nation, but is coffee variety is important. If you are looking for a refreshing variety with great taste buds, try the Rwandan coffee.
The success of the coffee industry has been attributed to the optimal growing conditions, wet processing methods used, and incentives from the government. The commitment has improved the quality of coffee beans.
When buying any product, ensure it is ethically sourced coffee. Check for Fair Trade and Direct Trade labels on the products. You will enjoy a fresh cup of Rwanda coffee.