Rwandans have been growing coffee since colonial times, but until 1999 the product was classed below Grade C, making it unsalable on the global markets. The farmers did not have the means to wash and prepare their coffee cherries to specifications in a timely manner. Today Rwanda is Africa’s ninth largest Arabica coffee producer with about 450,000 small farms which average less than one hectare in size (about 165 coffee trees per coffee farmer) totaling about 28,000 hectares in coffee cultivation.
- Size – 26,338 sq km
- Capital City – Kigali
- Main Port City – Landlocked country
- Population – 12,988,423 (July 2016)
- Language/s Spoken – Kinyarwanda (official), French (official), English (official)
Coffee production in Rwanda
- Population Involved in Coffee – 400,000
- Average Farm Size – <1–4 hectares
- Bags Exported Annually – approx 130,000 bags
Rwanda Coffee Profile
- Growing Regions – Western Province (including Kabrizi, Lake Kivu, and Gishamwana Island), Southern Province (Butare, Nyanza), Northern Province (Rulindo), Eastern Province (Ngoma District)
- Common Varieties – Bourbon, French Mission Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, Mibirizi
- Processing Method/s – Washed
- Country-Specific Grading – High Grade (screen size 16), Medium Grade (screen size 15), Ordinary (screen size 14 and below)
- Bag Size – 60 kg
- Harvest Period – March– July
- Typical Arrival – September–January
History of Rwanda Coffee
As most African coffee-producing countries (with the exception of Ethiopia), Rwanda was planted in coffee by colonial interests from Europe in order to supply the booming market back on their home continent. High-yield, low-cost varieties were introduced in the 1930s and made compulsory to farmers by Belgian colonials.
Coffee since colonial times
Rwandans have been growing coffee since colonial times, but until 1999 the product was classed below Grade C, making it unsalable on the global markets. The farmers did not have the means to wash and prepare their coffee cherries to specifications in a timely manner. Buyers paid US$0.33 per kilogram, a price that kept the farmers poor.
Coffee was intended to be a cheap commodity available in abundance, and the colonial government held strict mandates over exports in addition to imposing very high taxes on growers, practically enslaving them to the industry. Roughly 75 percent of the land mass of Rwanda is used for agriculture, and more than 35 percent of its population are subsistence farmers, many of whom rely on coffee for at least a portion of their income.
Recent years: independence and Rwanda coffee
Targeted programs initiated by the government in the early 2000s encouraged Rwandans to use specialty coffee as one of the means to recover and to create a new niche agricultural market. The erection of the first washing station with USAID support in 2004, and the country was the first to host a Cup of Excellence auction, bringing international recognition to the “Land of a Thousand Hills” as a potential producer of exceptional quality.
Today, this tiny country (roughly the size of Maryland) contributes less than 0.2 percent of the global coffee supply, but its reputation for special quality and unique characteristics—not to mention the incredible story of its development as a specialty-coffee origin since the genocide—have earned Rwanda a significant place at the table among African origins.
Rwandan Coffee Plant Varietals
About 95% of Rwanda’s coffee plants are the high quality Arabica varietal Bourbon. Also cultivated are relatively small amounts of the Catuai and Caturra varietals. One of the varietals cultivated in Rwanda is Coffea arabica var. mayaguez, a cultivar of Bourbon (Coffea arabica var. bourbon). Most of the coffee in Rwanda is grown at elevations ranging from 1,200 to 1,800 meters above sea level.
Rwanda Coffee Processing
Most of the green coffee is Wet processed often at communal washing stations used by numerous coffee farmers.
Grading coffee cherry (fruit)
The technicians start the washing process immediately, since delay can cause fermentation of the sugary coating surrounding the bean and ruination of the coffee flavour. The beans are first thrown into a deep tank. The best cherries sink to the bottom and pass through a machine that removes their skin. The technicians remove any floating cherries and process them in the same way as the others for the cooperative to sell on the domestic market for less than ‘Specialty coffee‘ price.
Pulping and Fermentation
The beans are fed through one of the cooperative’s three de-skinning and selection machines to remove their skins and most of the sugary coating before running the individual beans through a vibrating colander. The colander separates the very highest quality Grade A beans from those labeled Grade B; the two grades are sent separately down the hill in a water chute with a 1 percent gradient. This process allows for further separation of beans based on quality, with around 15 tanks available at the bottom for capture of the different types. The beans are kept submerged, two days for the best and 15–20 hours for the lesser beans, which causes a small amount of fermentation to convert the remainder of the sugar without significantly impairing the flavour.
Rinsing and Sun-Drying the Coffee Beans
The technicians wash the beans several times to remove the remains of the skin and coating and put them out on shaded racks to dry. Cooperative employees turn the beans regularly as technicians spot and remove bad beans.This last process reduces the water content of the bean from 40 percent to 12 percent.
Remove the parchment skins
The technicians then move the beans to the technical centre in nearby Kizi. Certain machines, housed in a warehouse up the side of the hill, remove the parchment skins from the beans. Employees take the beans into the adjacent laboratory for the final quality control process – hand sorting – which is carried out by several experienced women. The beans are bagged and labeled according to their quality, and stored in the compound’s warehouse to await sale.
See more Washed Process in Rwanda form Wikipedia