Newsletter: Secure Source: Rwanda

Rwanda makes up a smaller portion of the total volume of coffee that we buy at Red Fox, but in many ways it represents best the potential for the work that we do as specialty coffee buyers. First, there is the coffee itself: nearly 100% heirloom Bourbon, grown in the volcanic soil of Rwanda’s abundant hills. Elevation across the country ranges from 1,500 to 2,000+ masl, and rainfall is ideal for coffee cultivation. The cup profiles in Rwanda are unique and varied, with saturated sweetness and full-bodied mouthfeel, as well as complexity, brilliant acidity, and vibrant fruit. And the fully-washed, centralized processing in Rwanda is meticulous, some of the best of any origin we work in.

But the story of coffee in Rwanda was not always so. When the reshaping of Rwanda’s coffee sector began in 2000, only six years after the utter devastation of the genocide, 90% of Rwanda’s coffee crop was classified as low-quality ‘ordinary’ coffee.’ There were hardly any centralized processing stations in the country and almost no washed coffee was produced at all. The history of coffee cultivation in Rwanda, inextricably linked to colonial policies from the 1930s, included enforced planting of coffee, restricted cherry prices, high taxes on exports, and tight control over who could buy and sell coffee within the country. After the genocide, the government lifted restrictions on trade and on farmers, and then began a sustained and focused effort to develop a high-quality, specialty coffee market in Rwanda.

In a collaborative effort, donor-funded NGOs, like PEARL and later SPREAD, formed and trained cooperatives, supported the building of hundreds of new washing stations throughout the country, invested in training and technical assistance for farmers, agronomists, cuppers, and quality control professionals. These long-term investments across the supply chain in Rwanda dramatically increased the supply of quality coffee in the country. Demand for high-quality Rwandan coffee has increased globally, farmers have access to higher prices for the fruits of their labor, and many skilled jobs have been created throughout the supply chain, from accountants and managers at washing stations, to cuppers, agronomists, quality control personnel, and positions in dry milling and export.

There are still challenges, of course. Washing stations are costly to operate and often struggle to remain solvent. Government regulation over cherry prices can be destabilizing year to year for washing station owners, millers, and exporters. But coffee in Rwanda has come a long way, and we are glad to have a small role in that process. Quality continues to improve and the coffees are beautiful, stable, and a welcome addition to seasonal coffee menus everywhere. Our Rwandan coffees arrive to the US in the late summer and early fall.

We’d like to shed some light on what’s happening with each of our projects. You’ll find rough harvest and shipping timelines, price ranges, and flavor profiles for each region below.

Nyamasheke District, Western Province – Kanzu

Aleco first set his heart on coffee from Kanzu at Rwanda’s Golden Cup in 2007. The coffee came in fourth in the competition, but the sweetness and profile blew him away, and he set off to go about buying it. At the time, the washing station’s owner struggled to stay in operation from year to year, and buying coffee from Kanzu in the subsequent years was a rollercoaster. In 2012, the washing station was purchased by C. Dorman and for the past five years they have made investments in infrastructure, trained farmers on agronomic best practices, and improved quality control. It’s a well-run operation and the quality of the coffee is superb. Elevation at the washing station is 1,900 masl, and most of the coffee is grown on the steep hills above, where the high elevation and cool climate slow down the cherry ripening and make for very dense fruit. Lots are separated by week through the harvest season and we cup each separation to select the top lots. Kanzu is our longest-standing relationship in Rwanda.

Peak Harvest Season: April – June
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Rusizi, Western Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: asian pear, blackcurrant, concord grape, honey, date syrup, fresh cream

Nyamasheke District, Western Province – Gatare

The Gatare washing station is just a few ridges beyond Kanzu, also in the Nyamasheke district, which lies between Lake Kivu to the west and the vast Nyungwe Forest National Park to the south and east. It began operating in 2003, when it was one of just a handful of washing stations processing fully-washed, speciality coffee in the country. Elevation at the mill is 1,765 masl and they receive cherry from upwards of 2,000 farmers from the surrounding hills. Red Fox bought coffee from Gatare for the first time last year and the incredible floral characteristics, layers of sweet stone fruit, muscovado sugar, and gingerbread won us over immediately. The washing station has the capacity to process a large volume of coffee and we hope to see our relationship grow here.

Peak Harvest Season: April – June
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Kigali City, Kigali Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: plum, peach, brown sugar, candied ginger, orange peel, fine cacao, honeysuckle

Nyamagabe District, Southern Province – Kibirizi

Our Kibirizi lots hail from the Nyamagabe district in the southwest of Rwanda, which lies between Cyangugu and Butare, east of the Nyungwe Forest. Here the landscape opens up into seemingly endless dome-shaped hills, nearly every square foot terraced and cultivated. Coffee production is only recently becoming as widespread here as in the Western District, but it is growing quickly. This washing station was built in 2016 and last year was its first year in operation. Immaculate and Francine, the washing station’s owners, have also planted over 20,000 coffee trees of their own, some of which are not yet producing fruit. This season, they bought cherry from around 500 farmers in the region and doubled their production over last year. In the cup, the Kibirizi profile is full of intensity with fresh and dried red fruits, bright kiwi and lime acidity, and elegant hibiscus floral notes.

Peak Harvest Season: March – May
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Kigali City, Kigali Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: red fruit – dried cherry, cranberry, cane sugar, crème brulee, hibiscus

Cheers,

Julia