Despite being part of the top 30 coffee-producing countries globally, not many people are familiar with Rwanda coffee. Rwanda is a small East African country that should never be overlooked by coffee lovers and roasters because although it's not well-known, it produces the highest quality of coffee that everyone would crave for more. Rwandan coffee produces rich brews with unique floral notes, making it an exotic drink that coffee lovers would surely enjoy.
Although Rwanda isn't one of Africa's largest coffee-growing countries, it positions itself as a world-class specialty coffee origin with its delicious coffee backing this claim. Rwandans are taking advantage of their beautiful country's geo-climatic conditions that are perfect for high-quality growth.
But what should drinkers and roasters know about Rwandan coffee? To help you understand more about this underrated coffee and see its incredible offerings, here's everything you need to know about Rwandan coffee and why you should add it to your coffee bucket list.
What is Rwanda Coffee
Rwandan coffee is known for its complexity and depth, like the country itself. It's a single-origin direct trade and fair trade certified coffee grown in Rwanda's capital, Kigali. Rwandan coffee is also grown in other high-altitude coffee-growing regions in the country, such as Lake Kivu, which is around 5,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level.
Single-origin Rwandan coffee consists of 100% Arabica coffee beans and can range from a light roast to a dark roast. Coffees brewed from Rwandan coffee usually exhibit a rich brew with a deep finish and unique floral notes. If you want authentic Rwandan coffee, it's better to ground the beans using the best coffee grinders. Ready-made Rwandan grounds are also available in a light roast or dark roast.
The Rwanda bean is one of the most sought coffee beans globally, having an interesting and exciting taste and history. German colonists first introduced the crop in the country in the 1900s, and the first Rwandan coffee produced was in large quantities with a significant lack of quality. The production of low graded beans increased in the colonial government era before the nation started gaining independence in the mid 20th century.
However, even after gaining independence, Rwanda's coffee industry suffered as crises struck the country in the 1990s. But local coffee farmers didn't give up and started turning to produce direct trade coffee under the 'National Coffee Strategy,' completely reinventing Rwanda's coffee industry. In the last 20 years, Rwanda has become part of the top 30 best coffee-growing nations globally.
The Rwandan coffee industry is now continuously growing and currently exports over millions of pounds of high-quality beans and blends annually. Most of this coffee production comes from smaller and sustainable farms than massive estates, making single-origin Rwandan coffee one of the most delicious and environmentally-friendly blends globally.
Where Does Rwanda Grow Coffee?
Coffees from Rwanda are grown in the country's high-altitude areas, boasting some of the best coffee-growing regions, producing high-quality coffees. Across the board, Rwandan growing regions have the same optimal growing conditions for coffees, with high altitudes and nitrogen-rich volcanic soil.
However, Rwanda still has five central coffee production locations, including Virunga, Lake Kivu, Kizi Rift, Muhazi, and Akagera. Additionally, some of the nation's central districts also participate in the industry, including Huye, Ngoma, Gakenke, Nyagatare, Kamonyi, Kayonza, etc. You can still find tons of variety and complexity from coffee grown within these places, making it challenging to pinpoint any specific regional profiles for Rwanda coffee.
Despite the many different Rwanda regions, and most have nearly perfect coffee growing conditions, some still stand out more than the others. For instance, the country's western provinces and the capital, Kigali, are filled with coffee plantations, making these areas the main coffee-producing hubs of Rwanda. However, despite being the main coffee-growing places in the nation, coffee grown from Lake Kivu is the best because of its fertile environment.
Coffee grown from Lake Kivu takes place at staggering heights, making the brews delicate, complex, and incredibly delicious. It boasts a unique flavor profile that includes subtle hints of cherry, lime, cocoa, and sweet orange. Arabica coffee beans from Rwanda are excellent for espresso and drip brewing methods. You can make Rwanda direct trade coffee using the best coffee latte maker, the best coffee French Press, or even a simple stovetop.
Growing Coffee In Rwanda
Most of Rwanda's plantations are high and are situated between 4,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level, giving the coffee plants the perfect growing condition. Because of these optimal growing conditions, Rwanda coffee beans are some of the best, providing unique flavor profiles that even coffee snobs enjoy. Rwandan coffees range from a light roast to a dark roast.
Over 95% of the farms in Rwanda not only produce top-quality Arabica coffee beans, but they are also some of the highest quality Rwanda bourbon coffee varieties. Rwanda's local coffee-growing season begins in either September or October, continuing until harvesting occurs in March and July. Within those months, the collection for Rwandan Arabica coffee beans tends to peak from May.
Processing Coffee In Rwanda
Single-origin coffee grown from Rwanda is generally wet-processed. Because of this, the country has invested a lot of effort and time to provide tons of resources, establishing public washing stations throughout the nation for the countless micro-crops of coffee cherries that need wet processing each year.
The small coffee growers and farms involved in the Rwanda coffee industry don't have the means to create large washing stations present in large estates worldwide. That's because farmers in Rwanda only grow coffee beans part-time as they focus more on other agriculture activities such as growing food crops. Thus, the establishment of communal washing stations has helped the farmers have access to decent washing facilities, increasing the quantity and improving the quality of Rwandan coffee to unprecedented levels.
Characteristics of Rwanda Coffee
There are several aspects, flavor, and subtle differences between Rwanda coffees, making blends from each Rwandan region unique. However, some elements still tend to shine through no matter which area in the country, the coffee was grown. A recurrent flavor profile is that Rwanda coffee tends to be vibrant, boasting a silky texture and creamy body with subtle hints of floral notes present in Ethiopian coffee and pleasant acidity of Kenyan coffee. It's one of the best coffee to drink, making it an excellently balanced unique brew for newbie coffee drinkers and long-time fanatics.
However, those flavor notings are nowhere near what Rwanda can offer to your taste buds. Before and after indulging in a cup of Rwanda coffee, the beans will likely fill your senses with subtle hints of lemon, orange blossom, and other flora notes complementing the brew's sweet citrusy qualities. The floral notes resemble Ethiopian coffees, featuring hints of caramelized sugar, nuts, cloves, and cinnamon.
Rwanda coffee's acidity levels tend to be high and bright, producing sweet and savory flavors because of the growing conditions and high altitudes. Because of Rwanda's climate and geographical location, coffees from the country boast similar acidity to Kenyan coffees.
Ultimately, Rwanda coffee's characteristics include unique floral flavors mixed with fruity undertones, such as redcurrant or berry. The sweet, citrusy aroma of orange blossom and lemon. The buttery creaminess of decadent caramel and white chocolate as its aftertaste. If you want to enjoy your Rwanda beans, it's best to grind it at home with the best coffee hand grinder for a more authentic coffee experience.
The Uniqueness of Rwanda Coffee
Rwanda coffee boasts a perfect fusion of sweet, buttery, and decadent caramel notes with refreshing fruity overtones. This unique combination of flavors provides you with some of the most delicately balanced yet complex exotic coffee flavors you can encounter. Once you tried this drink, it can be challenging to imagine coffee tasting better. You can make Rwandan coffee using the best coffee and espresso maker or through a simple stovetop pot.
However, you may wonder, what makes Rwandan coffee so unique? From the nation's perfect farming conditions to the excellent soil quality, here are some reasons why Rwanda beans and blends are so unique.
Rwanda's unique geographical location provides the optimal growing condition for coffee plants. The nation is gaining worldwide recognition for its top-quality beans thanks to the farms located on steep mountains or hillsides, ranging from anywhere between 5,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level.
The most prominent coffee-producing region, Lake Kivu, is situated at 5,900 feet, allowing farmers to harvest denser and richer beans because of the less oxygen present at the high altitudes. The lack of oxygen allows the coffee cherries to grow slowly, providing more concentrated flavors.
Although several Rwanda areas are still facing growing coffee challenges because of poor organic material in the soil, Lake Kivu region is unique as its volcanic-rich land provides a fertile environment ideal for growing caffeinated beans. The plants bloom from September to October and get processed from March to July.
Most coffee from Rwanda is entirely wet-processed, increasing the production and quality of the beans. However, unlike other parts of the globe, washing facilities that Rwandan farmers used are not linked to prominent estates. Instead, they cater to several sustainable small farmers that grow the caffeinated beans and other crops.
The process involves soaking the beans twice, extracting the complex flavors. It produces the distinctly clean, bright, and fruity notes that Rwandan coffee is famous for.
Besides wet-processing, Rwandan beans also undergo a unique drying process where farmers sort the beans further, ensuring that the ones they export are only the best. These growers typically get rid of any under-ripe beans, fruit skins, or sour beans. Farmers will then place the quality beans on elevated drying tables, covered for 15 to 20 days, allowing them to dry at a rate where they won't crack under the sun's intense heat.
Rwanda is also known as the 'land of a thousand hills' because most of the nation contains vast hillsides, mountains, and tropical forests. Pair these optimal climate conditions with the year-round temperature and humidity provides the best coffee-growing environment.
Because of these conditions, you have the luxury to enjoy unique Rwandan coffee, providing a rich and creamy body with subtle buttery overtones. And because of its complexity, you can experience anything from subtle hints of clove or cinnamon to white chocolate.
Brands Which Offer Rwanda Coffee
With Rwanda's political crises in the 90s almost bringing the industry down, local farmers in the nation worked hard in the 21st century, allowing the industry to thrive again. Although their infrastructures got destroyed and produced bad-quality beans for a while, they overcame the struggles and became one of the world's best producers. Today, Rwanda consists of more than 500,000 small scale farms that produce great coffee while following sustainable practices.
Although rare, you can find a handful of established brands offering this unique coffee. Some of these brands include big names in the industry, such as Starbucks and AmazonFresh.
It's best to keep an eye out for brands that participate in sustainability programs and have certifications like direct trade and fair trade to ensure you're getting quality beans or blends ethically. Although these systems aren't perfect, they indicate that the brand is attempting to follow or encourage socially and environmentally sustainable practices, supporting Rwandan coffee farmers. Both facets are crucial to the future success of the Rwanda coffee industry.
Although Rwanda may be small, Rwanda coffee is no short of a massive deal in the coffee industry, providing quality beans for a gourmet coffee experience like no other. If you're looking for a coffee that's unique and flavorful, Rwandan coffee provides enough varieties for most taste buds. We hope this guide helped you understand the hard work, time, and effort that goes into Rwandan coffee, providing the best sustainable and delicious coffee crops to your cup.