This blog references the release of Rwanda Karongi Gitesi through the Coffees of the World club.
Better known for the tragic genocide in 1994, Rwanda has been slowly gaining a foothold in the coffee profession as an origin capable of producing fantastic specialty coffee. The transformation from little known origin to one of the most exciting coffee producers in the world is wrapped up in how the Rwandan people and economy have recovered from the devastation of the genocide.
Prior to the genocide, according to Thompson Owen of Sweet Maria’s, Rwandan coffee was typically exported to Belgium and London and blended into cheap commercial blends. Much of the high grade coffee was processed crudely and never sorted or treated after picking in a way that would ensure a higher cup quality or access to a specialty market. Following the genocide, renewed world interest in Rwanda led to collaboration between USAID and the Rwandan government to figure out how to produce and export extremely high quality coffee to the specialty market.
Rwanda has some very favorable conditions to produce world class coffee. First, Rwandan coffee consists of mostly bourbon varieties. Bourbon, a type of Arabica coffee, produces classically sweet and fruited coffees. Many of the best coffees from the Antigua region of Guatemala and Kenya come from Bourbon varieties. Second, Rwanda has much land at very high altitudes, another hallmark of the world’s best coffees.
The problem organizations such as PEARL (Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages) faced in trying to bring attention to Rwandan coffee was the lack of infrastructure necessary to produce specialty coffee. In the pre-genocide days only one major washing and processing station existed in Rwanda. Over the course of several years some pioneering folks, such as Dr. Tim Schilling, worked to setup cooperatives such as Dukunde Kawa, another Black Oak favorite. These new mills collected the best coffee from hundreds and thousands of really small farms and process them using the best pulping, sorting and drying techniques.
In order to bring awareness to the coffee Rwanda hosted its first Cup of Excellence competition in 2008. Karongi Gitesi, this month’s offering, was the 2012 Rwandan Cup of Excellence winner and is a great example of the stunning sweetness, full mouth feel, and delicate complexity of Rwandan coffee. Over 1800 micro farms bring their coffee to the Karongi Gitesi station, producing a unique field blend of sorts that is ripe with unique origin character. This is truly a standout lot amongst many great Rwandan coffees.