Rwandan Coffees

Rwandan Coffees

Rwanda may be a small country, and it is often overlooked by coffee experts when talking about great coffee. Unfortunately, the Land of a Thousand Hills, as it is often nicknamed, has a great coffee production, with excellent origins and distinct characteristics from its neighbours.

Coffee was introduced in colonial times, initially as a Robusta and low-quality Arabica. Exportation through the nearby Democratic Republic of Congo was done by the colonialists, and Rwandan coffees fatigued to be recognized as a separate nation in the coffee world for a long time because of this. Most knew their coffees as being from Congo. Only in the last decades Rwanda has carved a name for itself in the world’s coffee market.

Most of Rwanda is made of hills covered by ancient forests. It is a landlocked country, which puts it at a disadvantage in trading their coffee but poses no issue to the actual farms. Most coffee cultivation happens in the highlands, between 4000 and 7000ft, across the whole country. Cultivation has been an integral part of Rwandan culture for decades, with most farmers collecting and processing all their coffee by hand. This guarantees an extreme attention to the final product but makes the processing slower.

Economically Rwanda has always leaned on agricultural products, and coffee is an important one for the country. Even if the younger generations are more attracted by more lucrative trades, and the recent wars and drop of coffee prices worldwide aren’t a push in the opposite direction, Rwandans coffees are increasingly being recognised. This is helping the farmers raising higher prices, hopefully soon inverting the tendency of young people to move away from coffee cultivation as a job.

A large part of Rwandan coffees are of specialty levels quality, roasted light. Main issue in growing great coffee is the limited amount of ground to use for farming it and soil depletion. Once the soil has lost a substantial part of its nutrients, there’s not much left elsewhere to switch the production to. Transporting coffees outside of Rwanda is also a problem, with a lack of infrastructure and long paths to the nearest port increasing the costs necessary to export Rwandan coffees.

On the bright side, most Rwandan coffees are fully washed Arabica, grown everywhere in the small country. In the west and southern areas, the regions of Huye, Nyamagabe, Nyamasheke are able to provide a great environment for the coffee plant, producing stunning coffees. Most of the coffees here are of the Bourbon or Mibirizi varieties. High altitude, over 5000ft, is a factor in the excellence of the coffees grown here.

On the eastern side of Rwanda, the regions of Ngoma and Nyagatare are less renowned, but nonetheless capable of producing delicious coffees. Altitude here is lower, 4000-6000ft, but the climate is the same, favourable, one for coffee culture.

Rwandan coffees in any of these regions have often in common a superb fruitiness and freshness that is a distinct characteristic of the country’s production. It is not uncommon to notice flavours of red grapes and red apples. Berries and floral qualities are less common, but not rare. As many other African coffees, the bright acidity, good body and natural sweetness make Rwandan coffees an excellent choice for many cafes around the world, and gaining acceptance in the coffee world, day after day.

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