I'm sure you've heard of the famous African coffees. Coffees from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Cote D'Ivoire, for example. But what about the lesser known, Rwanda coffee? How does this country measure up to the enormous scale of coffee production in Africa?
There's a lot of competition, of course. Africa is the 2nd largest continent on earth! Rwanda has some struggle against some of the world's best coffee producers. Besides that, let's see how coffee from Rwanda is special in its own right.
This Q&A (Questions & Answers) about coffee production in Rwanda will tell you all you need to know. Let's hope the subject pops up at your next pub quiz!
Q: How much coffee does Rwanda produce?
A: Compared to the rest of African coffee, Rwanda produces a small amount of coffee. It doesn't even check in the top 7 coffee producing countries. Leading the way here are Ethiopia, Uganda, and Cote d'Ivoire. Rwanda ranks in at about 9th place.
On a worldwide scale, Rwanda remains a small player. It produces less than 0.2% of the global coffee supply. The country has about 450,000 small coffee producing farms.
Q: What problems does Rwanda face?
A: Like all countries, Rwanda faces its fair share of problems. A stand-out issue is the "Potato Defect". This is something that occurs from bacteria in the coffee fruit. The bacteria makes its way under the skin and causes a nasty compound to develop. This compound infects the beans with a taste similar to a raw potato.
A lot of this bacteria arises because of Rwanda's proximity to Lake Kivu. Luckily for consumers, we don't notice the Potato Defect. Most Rwandan farmers are able to spot infected beans and throw them away.
Q: What type of coffee does Rwanda produce?
A: Rwanda mostly produces the Bourbon variety of coffee beans. 95% of all coffee plants are high-quality Arabica varietal Bourbon. In the past, farmers didn't have the means to grow high-quality coffee beans. Now, that is all changing.
These days, more than 10% of the coffee grown is fully washed. It sells as gourmet coffee beans to large companies. Last year, this fully washed crop sold out completely. Rwanda is gradually making a name on the specialty coffee market for its quality beans.
The country also produces Fair Trade coffees. When you buy Rwanda coffee, you know you're making a difference to the lives of farmers.
Q: How are the growing conditions in Rwanda?
A: Rwanda has naturally great coffee growing conditions. Farmers grow coffee at high altitudes in rich, healthy volcanic soil. Growing elevations are at around 1200-1800 meters above sea level. The beans receive the perfect mix of bright sun and misty shade.
Around 75% of the land mass in Rwanda is dedicated to agriculture.
Q: What does Rwandan coffee taste like?
A: These coffee beans make for a beautifully sweet cup. They have citrus and floral hits and a distinctive aroma. You may even recognize a smooth, honey taste to some varieties. Others have a berry or chocolate flavored coffee to them. Acidity is rich but moderate. The body is silky and creamy.
The best way to discover exactly how it tastes is to try some for yourself!
Rwanda has the title of "Land of a Thousand Hills". I wonder what the history of this hilly country has been like. Let's go back in time to take a look at the past of Rwanda coffee.
We don't need to go too far back to look at the start of Rwanda's coffee production history. It began during the 1930's. During this time, the Belgian colonial empire ordered Rwandan farmers to plant coffee trees. A lot of coffee trees. The sheer amount of trees meant that price and quality took a nosedive.
Rwandan farmers weren't equipped with the things they needed. They couldn't properly wash and process the coffee beans. This, of course, did nothing to improve quality. Rwanda's reputation in the industry was poor.
The year of the genocide was devastating for Rwanda. Ethnic majorities murdered around 800,000 people, mostly of Tutsi minority. Many of those who survived lost homes and families. It destroyed the already fragile economy. At the same time, coffee prices plummeted.
The country is still reeling from the effects. It's making steps to repair the damage and look towards a better future.
Up until 5-10 years ago, all coffee from Rwanda was sold at the lowest quality price. Many farmers were unable to support their families on these prices.
The coffee industry is gradually improving. It creates jobs and helps to boost the economy. It even helps to bring together those that were enemies during the genocide. Now, many of them work side-by-side in the coffee market.
The improvement was made possible by leaders that saw potential in the coffee industry. They loosened restrictions on farmers and trade. The country began to produce Rwandan coffee beans of a higher quality. Farmers were finally getting the training and support they needed.
Of course by now, you must be itching to buy a bag of coffee beans from Rwanda! You're fully aware of everything that the country has overcome. Now, it stops at nothing to create high-quality coffee beans! But where can you buy the best ones?
Perhaps one type I must mention is Kirkland Rwandan coffee beans. It's a brand name that is making its way onto the shelves of huge supermarkets. You can also find them at online retailers. Kirkland coffee contains 100% Arabica beans.
It is often roasted to a dark roast and you can choose the specialty coffee to suit you!
With every cup of coffee from Rwanda, you're tasting history. Not a very long history, I admit, but a deep one. Farmers in Rwanda have seen a full-scale process. From being forced to grow low-quality beans, to having the means to produce amazing coffee.
Coffee from Rwanda is a true delight to the taste buds! It has those beautiful flavors that are highly sought-after by many. Add the beans to your collection. You'll be helping farmers and their families, and helping Rwanda to get back on track.