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

 

Newsletter: Rwanda Arrivals – Old Favorites & New Finds

Rwandan coffees tend to be the first of our fresh-crop coffees to land in the US in the fall and, after the end-of-summer shipping lull, it’s always something to celebrate when these sweet, vibrant coffees make it through ours doors. It’s a stellar year again for Kanzu, a consistent favorite of ours, and we’re excited to have some new offerings to share with you as well. Fresh lots now are available spot on both coasts.

Aleco and I went to Rwanda in July this year and, while I’ve been to South America a handful of times with Red Fox, this was my first time seeing coffee production in Africa. We started the trip with a visit out to the Kanzu washing station in the Nyamasheke district of Rwanda’s western province. Kanzu is a jewel of a factory, neat and well-run, set against green hills of coffee, cassava, sweet potato, sugarcane, bananas, and beans at 1900 masl. The hills beyond border the Nyungwe Forest, now a protected National Park, and the cool cloud cover from the montane forest drifts over Kanzu, which makes for beautiful diffuse light and exceptional coffee-growing conditions. When the views are clear from the top of the ridge above the washing station, you can see all the way down to Lake Kivu to the west, which stretches the length of Rwanda’s border with the DRC. Aleco first started buying coffee from the Kanzu in 2007, and it has been one of our strongest offerings every year at Red Fox. Lots are separated by week coming through the washing station, and we cup through and select the top lots. This year’s Kanzu lots are incredibly sweet with dark sugars like panela and muscovado balancing fruits like blackcurrant, white grape, and asian pear with lots of florals and fresh cream. Kanzu lots are available now on both coasts, but they won’t last long.

 

And now to introduce our newest finds! We have expanded our purchasing in Rwanda this year and we have some exciting things to show for it. Twumba is a new washing station in the district of Karongi, just north of Nyamasheke and also in the western province. Elevation is high here as well — the washing station sits at 1856 masl, with farmers bringing cherry down from the hills above. This coffee has been blowing us away since we first cupped it this summer. The aromatics are full of candied fruit and bright cane sugar, with white peach, sweet lime, and black cherry in the cup. We bought just a single lot from Twumba this year and there are 11 bags available now at the Annex.

Back in Nyamasheke, just a few valleys over from Kanzu, lies the Gatare washing station. It was built in 2003 and was one of the few washing stations in the country to process cherry for speciality coffee at the time. Elevation here is 1765 masl and up, and climate is very similar to Kanzu. The washing station and region have the potential for greater volume in the years to come and we’re looking forward to more brilliant coffees ahead. These lots are full of big, bright, clean fruit — red currant, lychee, kiwi, and peach — along with honey and cane sweetness, and candied ginger and citrus peel.

Lastly, we have two incredible lots from Kibirizi, which also come from a new washing station in its first year of operation, this one in Rwanda’s southern province in the district of Nyamagabe. Built and operated by two farmers from the area who wanted more control over the processing to preserve and improve quality, they are now processing cherry from their own 20,000 coffee trees along with cherry from neighboring farmers. These profiles are bursting with red fruit from dried cherry to raspberry to cranberry and have layers of sweetness — cane sugar, apricot jam, and creme brûlée, with elegant rhubarb and hibiscus notes.

Please email info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com for all booking and sample requests.

Cheers,

Julia

Newsletter: Rwanda Kanzu Offerings 2015

Kanzu is back, folks, and I have to say this is the best delivery of lots I’ve tasted since we began working with the washing station after the 2007 Golden Cup. Nyamasheke has always been our favorite region in Rwanda, and it’s where we have consolidated all of our sourcing efforts to date. The extreme altitude and Bourbon-laden hills make it one of the coffee world’s true treasures. The Kanzu factory itself is located at 1900 masl, and farmers bring their cherry down to the mill from the slopes above.

When I first began working in Rwanda and Burundi, we focused on getting as close a look as possible into each washing station. The origins were new to us and our curiosity was endless. We had a thirst to understand the process and to really get into the details of production. Because we were used to seeing separated day lots in Latin America, we pressed to get to that level in Rwanda. What turned out to be most efficient was bulking lots by week in each storage facility. This separation was our attempt to understand what was happening throughout the harvest and it gave us the opportunity to offer better premiums to the producers for quality lots. Red Fox continues to work with this way today.

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From start to finish, harvest in Rwanda runs about 4-5 months. Lots coming from the peak of the harvest (weeks 8-12) demonstrate saturated levels of sweetness. These coffees are full of muscovado sugar, dark honey, tamarind, and date. Coffees from towards the end of the harvest (weeks 14-18) have brilliant, lucid acidity. Malic and tartaric acidity dominate these profiles, which run the gamut from granny smith apple and asian pear to concord grape and red currant.

Kanzu is arguably our most popular offering of the fall and maybe even the entire year. We have only 90 bags going up today. Please get back to us quickly with your interest.

Cheers,
Aleco

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Newsletter: Rwanda Kanzu Offerings 2014

Very few coffee-producing countries have received the kind of focused aid that Rwanda has seen since the end of the genocide in 1994. Beginning in 2001 with the PEARL Project, and continuing with SPREAD, which ended in 2012, the Rwandese coffee industry was the focus of a series of collaborative development projects designed to rebuild the agricultural sector, mainly coffee & cassava, after the devastation of genocide & civil war. PEARL and SPREAD were funded by USAID and U.S. universities and led by Dr. Tim Schilling. By building washing stations, forming coops, and training agronomists, cuppers and quality control personnel, the programs helped to elevate Rwandese coffee to new heights, giving farmers access to specialty coffee markets and prices.

Thanks to the success of these innovative programs, the Rwandese coffee industry has become one of Eastern Africa’s crown jewels. Its countryside is covered in beautiful Bourbon trees growing at elevations that can exceed 2,000 masl. Processing is meticulous and done with as much or more attention to detail than most origins out there, giving us some of the cleanest, most perceptible flavor profiles of anywhere we work.

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My first visit to Rwanda was for the Golden Cup in 2007, a precursor to Africa’s first Cup of Excellence competition that took place in Butare the following year. It was a great introduction to the amazing potential of Rwandese coffee quality. Although we ended up buying the first and third place coffees in the auction held immediately after the event, I was quite taken by the 4th place coffee from the southern region of Nyamasheke, a region that’s perched high above Lake Kivu facing the DRC on Rwanda’s western border. Kanzu was the name of the washing station and the small surrounding area. The coffee was laden with crisp, refreshing malic acidity, leaning towards a hybrid of asian pear and fuji apple. The mouthfeel was rich and creamy; so stout it was almost Kenya-like. The massive sweetness was what really captivated me, though, with flavors ranging the dried fruit gamut of raisin to apricot, with dark sugar notes of muscovado. It was as complete a coffee as I had tasted from the actual auction lot arrivals. I couldn’t stop drinking it.

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So, in 2008, I set out to learn more about Nyamasheke and Kanzu. I spent several weeks on two different trips out on the lake and up at the washing station. Despite the high premiums we were paying, it was difficult to secure coffee from the washing station year after year. Finance issues made keeping Kanzu open an annual struggle. It was heartbreaking knowing the potential of the Kanzu farmers’ coffee and not being able to buy from them. In early 2012, the washing station was sold to C. Dorman of Nairobi. Our relationship with Kanzu is now thankfully stable.

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If you tasted last year’s Kanzu lots, you know how phenomenal this coffee can be. We think this year may be the best yet. As always, we’ve cupped through the entire separation of lots, done by week at Kanzu. We have selected the very best available and are offering them individually.

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