Rwanda isn’t as known coffee producing country as surrounding Kenya and Tanzania, but increasingly coffee professionals have been attracted to Arabica crops resulted from its perfect micro climates and teroir. The success of Rwandan coffee industry probably provides a good case model to neighboring newer coffee producers likes of Uganda and Congo.
The country known as the Land of a Thousand Hills is located in the central Africa and bordering other coffee nations, Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, and Brundi. The beauty of the land featuring Lake Kivu and scenic mountainous regions is also praised as “Little Switzerland”. The Rwanda’s coffee is cultivated in the mountainous region between 1500m to 2000m from the sea level, on a rich volcanic soil, temperature of 60F to 73F, and adequate rain fall during the rainy season.
The country’s coffee cultivation started in 1904 when German missionaries brought Bourbon variety from Guatemala to Mibirizi of Rwanda. The locals still call this Bourbon variety Mibirizi as the name of the location. Now there are approximately 500,000 smallholder farmers, and the coffee makes up about 50% of the country’s total export value. The production volume dramatically dropped in 1994, the year of the Rwndan Genocide, in which approximately 800 thousand people were killed in a hundred days. The production has been nearing to the levels before the genocide with the governmental development policy to increase quality and quantity.
After ten years from the genocide, the country’s first washing station in Gisaka Migongo with a help by USAID(U.S. Agency for International Development). In four years, the number of washing stations grew to over 70. Generally, the washing stations adopt Kenyan style wet process, which has an additional fermentation process that increases proteins(amino acids) contents. The Bourbon(Mibirizi) varietal’s balanced acidity and complexity is hightened with this thorough washing process. The adoption of this washing process contributed to the rise of Rwandan coffee industry. In 2008, Rwanda became the first African country to hold the Cup of Excellence competition. Now the country has rapidly consolidated its position as a specialty coffee producer. The climate, soil, elevation, varietal potential, and processing altogether work well to produce high quality coffee in Rwanda.
The traditional Mibirizi Bourbon has bright acidity and sweetness of lemon juice. As the roast level gets closer to full city, it has fuller body. The finding the right balance between acidity and body is the key for this coffee as it is for Bourbon of Antigua, Guatemala. In addition to the physical flavor of Rwandan coffee, I have to appreciate how this coffee is cultivated with lots of care by the smallholders, well processed, shipped on trucks to the port cities, either in Tanzania or Kenya, and finally loaded on a ship to the new world. Just imagining the journey the coffee went through, there seems to be some additional flavor added to the cup.
Photo by Colleen Taugher