Rwandan Coffee

As I said at the beginning of the week, this trip I wanted to try and post about different things not just we tried coffees and loved them. Sure I am and yes they are good but there is only so much you can say about that.

This post is an introduction to the Rwandan coffee and the challenges it faces.

• Around the same size as Wales
• Population of 10 million people
• GDP at $2.3 billion
• Altitudes between 1,000m and 5,000m
• Principal exports are coffee and tea
• Coffee accounts for nearly 50% of all exports
• Coffee introduced by Germans in 1904
• Mainly ‘bourbon’ varietal of Arabica coffees
• Production between  420,000 and 700,000 bags per year
• 500,000 small holder farm families produce it and depend on it for their livelihoods
• 100% small holder produced
• Average size of coffee plants owned by one person is just 200 trees
• Total area in coffee is 33,000 hectares
• Average yield per hectare is 700 kilograms of green coffee

The old days all of Rwandan coffee went to the commodity market because the market Government controlled sector and export monopoly and was targeted for the ‘C’ Market. There were many produces all doing there own thing there own processing and because they were so small it was impossible to find a buyer within the market place.

But after the devastating genocide there was a big investment within the country from aid agencies to address the quality issues. This was done by building cupping labs for the coffee to be tasted, Money was also used to train farmers on effective methods to produce quality and wet washing stations were build to process the coffee again with quality in mind. Also much work was done by the Rwandan government to open up the market to help specialty buyers.
A project formally called PEARL now called SPREAD funded by USAID has helped all of this to happen and has brought the buyers who will pay a good price for coffee to Rwanda to tell growers what they wanted and to build the relationships.
To get to a point of being able to run a cup of excellence competition is nothing short of amazing and has taken many efforts by very good people to get it to fruition. Cup of excellence quite rightly has a very strict set of rules and rules that have been formulated with south/central American in mind. Rwanda’s very small lot sizes and the way coffee is processed together at washing stations has meant that one lot of coffee for the competition could have as many as 250 farmers in it for just 15bags. This has been something that has never been done before. Also one of the fundamentals of the program is to make sure the money goes into the farmer’s hand. Having so many people involved in the competition has meant a lot of work and guarantees had to be done to make sure this worked, as it should.
But the dedication of the people here on the ground is amazing, and their one focus of raising standards for the farmers and for the quality of the coffee.

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  1. Fascinating Steve – a real achievement.
    Hope you manage to get a plane soon!

    Jon 🙂

  2. Thanks for posting! It’s absolutely fascinating to get these kind of updates, keep it up!


  3. Great to see COE in Africa.
    Lets hope it can be extended into other African countries.
    Good job Steve, hope you get home soon.

  4. So jealous of your trip – would love to go, let alone go and cup!

    I think everyone is very excited about the huge potential for coffee in Rwanda – the heirloom varietals, the high ratio of manpower to production quantities and great terroir.

    I really hope Rwandan speciality coffee makes it past its infant phase and all the challenges it faces – from potato to the challenges of financial managment the cooperatives and stations face.

    Very excited to cup the auction lots! Safe journey mate!

  5. Nice one Steve. Fascinating place, isn’t it? It has been quite a challenge to hold a Cup of Excellence in Rwanda but there is no doubt that the country can and does produce some of the finest specialty coffee around.

    I was wondering if you fancied a 20k Bike Ride that we are planning, maybe in Wales or somewhere quite hilly??

    Looking forward to hear more about the trip

    All the best

  6. Thanks guys for the nice comments don’t give away the bike story just yet 😉

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