At first glance, those Rwanda coffee beans on that shop counter might look like just another bag ‘a beans with a missing vowel in its name.
But the history of the Rwandan coffee industry, both tragic and epic, has not only kept coffee production from the Land of a Thousand Hills alive – it’s transformed it into one of the most sought-after coffees in the modern world.
Some Interesting Facts about Rwandan Coffee Beans
Rwandan coffee has both a colorful history and an exciting taste. Here are some of the highlights of the Rwandan coffee experience.
A Brief History of Rwandan Coffee
The tiny, landlocked East African nation of Rwanda is nestled in the middle of the continent and located not far from Kenya, one of the world’s leading coffee-growing nations.
The first coffee plants reached Rwanda as late as the beginning of the 20th century, but it was another three decades before Rwanda coffee production began to take off.
Initially, while the quantity was there, the quality was still lacking. The types of coffee grown in Rwanda were rather low-grade, particularly due to the harsh demands of the colonial government before the country gained independence in the middle of the century.
Even after independence, the coffee industry suffered as crises struck both the coffee world and Rwanda in the 1990s, and by the turn of the millennium, the industry was in shambles.
But the farmers didn’t give up the metaphorical coffee ghost, and instead started turning to the world of high-end coffees. A National Coffee Strategy was developed that reinvented their coffee industry.
In the last two decades since, Rwanda has grown into one of the top thirty largest coffee-growing countries in the world.
Rwanda coffee exports now generally figure in the dozens of millions of pounds per year – that is, when production isn’t being tampered with by issues within the country. The bulk of this production comes from small farms rather than larger estates.
Growing Coffee in Rwanda
Most of the plantations in the country are fairly high, and are usually situated somewhere between 4,000 and 6,500 feet above sea level. This gives the coffee plants a nice, high altitude to grow in that is perfect for producing excellent beans.
Of all these farms, 95% have coffee plants that are not just Arabica – they are of the highest quality Rwanda bourbon coffee variety.
The local growing season typically begins in either September or October and continues until harvesting takes place between March and July. Within those months, the harvesting tends to peak from May on.
Processing Coffee in Rwanda
Coffee is generally wet processed throughout the country. This is largely thanks to modern efforts to invest time, effort, and resources into developing communal washing stations for the countless micro-crops of coffee cherries that require processing each year.
In this video by Sweet Maria’s you can check the comunal washing stations:
The numerous small farms involved in the business cannot create large, individual washing stations like the great coffee estates throughout the world do. This is because most farmers only grow coffee as a part-time side gig, generally using the rest of their farms to grow food.
Therefore, the investment into these washing stations has paid off, as access to decent washing facilities has helped raise the quantity and quality of Rwandan coffee to a whole new level.
The Flavor Profile of Rwandan Coffee Beans
There are many different aspects, flavors, and subtle differences between the Rwanda coffee varieties. However, there are some elements that tend to come through no matter where in the country the coffee comes from.
One such recurrent theme is the rich, creamy body, silky texture and an almost buttery overtone.
But creaminess is just the tip of the iceberg. Before and after the coffee hits your tastebuds, the beans are likely to flood your senses with floral, fruity, and citrusy flavors, followed by a slight savory tone. The floral notes are reminiscent of certain Ethiopian coffees, with many boasting a hint of caramelized sugar, cloves, nuts, and cinnamon.
The acidity levels are high and bright and tend to be both sweet and savory, which is largely due to the growing climate and altitude. Because of this, Rwandan coffee tends to have a similar acidity to Kenyan coffee.
Rwandan coffee taste:
- Aroma: Hints of orange blossom and lemon
- Taste: Floral mixed with a fruity, redcurrant, and berry flavor
- Aftertaste: Rich caramel and white chocolate
There are many different Rwanda coffee regions, but some stand out more than others.
The western regions of the country are filled with plantations, as is the capital region of Kigali. Both are considered the main coffee-growing hubs of the nation.
In the east, where the bulk of the land is a national reserve, the only coffee-growing exception is around Lake Kivu. However, the coffee grown in this fertile environment is, indeed, exceptional.
Kivu coffees are grown at enormous heights and can be delicate, incredibly complex, and dessert-y in nature, with a profile that includes hints of sweet orange, cherry, lime, and cocoa. They are excellent for both espresso and drip brewing methods.
If you are ever in the Lake Kivu region, you can even take a coffee tour from crop to cup!
The Current State of the Rwandan Coffee Industry
With the crises of the 1990s leaving the Rwandan coffee growers in a tight spot, it would have made sense for the entire industry to just close up shop. But since the early 2000s, the tenacious coffee growers have worked nothing short of a miracle.
They turned their industrial, cheap, and damaged infrastructure into a new beast focused not on producing loads of cheap beans, but rather smaller quantities of some of the best beans in the world.
As previously mentioned, part of this rapid healing included a move towards more Arabica crops being grown on smaller estates. Currently, there are nearly half a million micro-coffee farms, each with small plots of only a few hundred high-quality coffee plants.
Together, all of these farms combine to create the world-renowned national coffee industry of Rwanda.
An enormous issue for Rwanda has been the difficulty in getting the beans to the international market before they go bad. However, the communal washing stations and government funding have helped local farmers streamline their process enough to make coffee more valuable as a crop.
So while there are still tentative elements to the Rwandan coffee industry, overall things are looking on the up and up!
You can see a video highlighting the coffee revival here:
Best Brew Methods for Rwandan Coffee Beans
The gentle and delicate flavor profile of Rwandan coffee beans lends itself to certain brewing methods.
The best way to brew these beans, and our official recommendation, is to use a filter method like a pour over or drip coffee maker.
The main goal here is to make sure you use a method that isn’t too intense (like, for example, immersion with a French press). Using a gentler brewing process helps to coax out those subtle floral and citrusy flavors without extracting so much that it overwhelms the cup.
Another reason to use a pour over method is that most require a finer grind, like those used with Chemex and drip coffee methods, allowing you to get as much flavor out of the beans as you can without getting that heady extra “oomph” that an immersion process delivers.
Best Roast Types for Rwandan Coffee Beans
As with most coffee varieties, there is a spectrum of options when it comes to roasting Rwanda coffee.
Keep in mind, though, that these high altitude beans tend to be very dense, which should allow you to use plenty of heat. In fact, if you use too little you might end up simply baking them.
Lighter roasts can yield a much more acidic, fruitier flavor profile, which is something you don’t want to miss with this kind of bean.
On the other hand, the beans are often at their best with a good City roast and can even continue right on to darker options without being ruined.
Where to Buy Rwanda Coffee Beans
There are many different Rwanda coffee brands sold online, although finding a steady source for your beans may be difficult.
The many tenuous factors involved with the Rwandan coffee industry means predictability and stability of supply can vary.
Here are some of our top options for sourcing your Rwandan coffee beans.
#1 – 1st in Coffee
If you want to try coffee from one of Rwanda’s best growing regions, these beans from 1st in Coffee are not only organic and Free Trade, they’re sourced right from Rwanda’s lush Lake Kivu region!
#2 – Rwandan Bean
If you’re looking for a socially conscious source of beans, you might want to check out Rwandan Bean.
They not only source, roast, and sell coffee beans from Rwanda, they also reinvest a whopping 50% of their profits back into the local coffee farming community!
#3 – Sweet Maria’s
If you’re a fan of roasting your beans at home, you can get green Rwandan beans from Sweet Maria’s.
They include a boatload of information on the quality and origin of the beans, giving you comprehensive knowledge of the beans you’ll be roasting.
They even provide roasting tips for each kind of bean!
An Excellent Coffee Forged in the Fires of Heartbreak
The coffee that flows out of Rwanda brings a great deal of sorrow and tragedy with it, but the story of hope that the coffee farmers of Rwanda have forged through their trials has given their coffee an extra level of meaning.
It is one of the most uniquely special cups the world has to offer.
If you have any comments or thoughts on Rwandan coffee, we’d love to hear them. Comment below!