origin focus series: rwanda
The history of Rwandan coffee is probably the most interesting of all the African nations…
Coffee is not indigenous to Rwanda. It was brought there by German missionaries in the early 1900s. The very first trees were planted in Cyangugu province in the southwest of the country near the borders with Burundi and the DRC close to the coast of Lake Kivu. Cultivation of coffee grew steadily spreading into the Nyamasheke, Huye and Nyamagabe regions and later Ngoma, Kamony, Gakenke, Kayonza and Nyagatare in the North of the country.
Coffee became a compulsory crop in the 1930s as part of Belgian colonial rule, exports were tightly controlled for a long time by the Belgians who taxed farmers heavily and were almost exclusive buyers of Rwandan coffees for many years. By the 1990s coffee was Rwanda’s most valuable export. Sadly, the genocide of 1994 in which close to one million people lost their lives had a terrible effect on Rwanda’s Coffee Industry reducing it to its knees.
Since those tragic days, foreign aid has steadily poured into the country and large-scale investment in the coffee sector has taken place. This has lead to a revitalising of the Rwandan coffee industry which can now be considered in a period of strong economic stability and growth.
“At their best for drip brews they are full of juicy berry flavours, apples, oranges citrus and floral notes, and for espressos Chocolate, lime, biscuit and brown sugar.”
There are practical explanations for this recovery; strong governmental support for the coffee sector, trade rules favourable to exporting and, as mentioned, investment from NGOs and private companies. It would be doing a disservice to the people of Rwanda, however, not to acknowledge that it is their resilience and commitment to building a better future for their country that is the key driving force. All this has made Rwanda one of the ‘go to’ origins for specialty coffee today.
Unlike most African coffee producing nations, Rwanda has no large estates. Most of its coffee is grown by small holder farmers and their families. Often the land owned is less than a quarter hectare. More than 90% of Rwandan coffee is Arabica and the most popular variety is Red Bourbon.
There is now a strong focus on quality in Rwanda, exemplified by their involvement in the Cup of Excellence programme (the only African nation doing so) and a desire to produce top quality specialty coffees has seen strong interest from green bean buyers in coffees from Rwanda. At their best they are full of juicy berry flavours, apples, oranges citrus and floral notes when brewed as filter, and for espressos, the best produce flavours of Chocolate, lime, biscuit and brown sugar.
The future looks very positive for Rwandan coffee – and we are very happy to be offering one of the best Cup of Excellence placing Rwandan lots in the new year – so watch this space!