Dear coffee lovers,
This month we’re taking you to the “Land of a Thousand Hills”, Rwanda. This tiny Central African country came into the public consciousness in the mid-90’s during the genocide which killed nearly a million people. The horror of genocide devastated the country and created a deep, painful divide between survivors and perpetrators.
Coffee became a symbol of hope, as Rwanda struggled back to its feet. Foreign aid and economic interest streamed into the Rwanda as Western countries scrambled to ease their collective conscience over lack of intervention during the genocide. Both the new government and donors saw the coffee industry as key to restoring local economy and reconciling torn communities. As James Hoffmann wrote in The World Atlas of Coffee, ‘the government took a more opened approach to the coffee trade, and specialty coffee buyers from around the world have shown a strong interest in the country’s coffees. Rwanda is the only African country to have hosted a Cup of Excellence competition (CoE), a project to find the very best lots and to bring them to market through an online auction system’ (p.142).
This far-sightedness played an important role in paving the way for a peaceful society in post-genocide Rwanda.
Coffee of the Month: Rwanda
Coffees from Rwanda generally display a fruitiness and freshness reminiscent of citrus fruits. High-altitude of the Rwandan steeplands make the country the perfect place to grown high-quality arabica. Coffee is grown across the whole country without specific geographic zones of constriction.
Last year we offered to our subscribers (check out our coffee subscription plans ) Rushashi and Coko coffees from their namesake cooperatives located in the Gakenke District, Northern Province.
This year we would like you to try the same coffee from Rushashi, with a focus on comparing two different preparation methods: Fully Washed and Natural. We just received the new crop from our partner This Side Up, so expect some fresher flavors and try to compare how the very same coffee can taste different according to the way it is processed at the origin.
Fully washed coffee is immediately depulped (with a pulping machine) to mechanically remove
the skin and the pulp from the seed, or as we know it, the bean. It is called washed because after being depulped it is soaked in fermentation tanks. There, native bacteria and yeast breakdown the mucilage, which is the sticky layer of pectin which remains stuck to the bean. The process is interrupted after 12-24 hours or even more, just at the onset of the fermentation. Originally, the purpose was to make the removal of the mucilage much easier, but today a lot of experimentation is carried out at the washing stations in order to better understand the flavor developments in this crucial phase of the coffee supply chain. Once the mucilage is broken down the remaining seeds are washed in water streams channeled along canal systems made of concrete.
In Natural coffee, the process is to dry the cherries under the sun soon after being collected. The pulp and the skin dry out during the 2-3 following weeks and the growers must move the cherries to prevent unwanted fermentation to take place. This slow drying brings out a whole range of flavors ranging from red fruits and berries to stronger notes of fermented grape and wine.
When it comes to traceability, as in other African countries, coffee in Rwanda is traceable back to the washing station and the co-ops that supply them. Roasters may use the name of a district along with the name of the washing station or farmer group. Local varieties are mainly Mibirizi and Jackson, both are natural mutation of Bourbon (introduced from Guatemala). (ibid. p.144-45)
Enjoy your trip to Rwanda, and please let us know what you think!
The NCR Crew
All featured images are by This Side Up