Rwanda – Kirezi
Rwanda is blessed with ideal coffee growing conditions that include high altitude, regular rainfall, volcanic soils with good organic structure and an abundance of Bourbon coffee trees. The vast majority of Rwandan coffee is produced by smallholders of which there are thought to be around half a million with parcels of land often not much larger than just one hectare per family. Coffee is grown in most parts of the country, with particularly large concentrations along Lake Kivu and in the southern province. Rwandan smallholders organise themselves into cooperatives and share the services of centralised wet-mills – or washing stations as they are known locally.
Kirezi Cooperative is located in the Nyanza District of the Southern Province of Rwanda. The altitude of the coffee grown in this area ranges from 1,550 to 1,700 masl. The station was originally established by just 6 cooperative members in 1996 but has now grown to more than 360 members. The coffee is entirely high quality bourbon which combines with the high altitude to produce beautiful complex flavours in the cup. In the early years Kirezi produced only semi-washed coffee of low and inconsistent quality. However, in 2010, the members started to work with TechnoServe, an NGO focused on assisting farmers with technical support and advice on quality improvement. At this point, Kirezi began operating as a fully washed station and started to work The Rwanda Trading Company who were able to provide operating capital to support the farmers. These efforts were recently recognised and rewarded when Kierzi Cooperative’s coffee featured as a finalist in the Cup of Excellence competition.
Bourbon: This varietal originated on the Island of Bourbon (now known as Reunion Island) and is a mutation of early Arabica species from Ethiopia. It yields slightly more coffee than the Typica varietal but is relatively low yielding. The leaves are broad and cherries can ripen red, yellow or orange. This varietal is known for its amazing complex acidity and great balance.
Coffee Growing in Rwanda: Despite the tragedies of genocide and civil war which shook the world in 1994, Rwanda is an incredibly beautiful and culturally rich nation which also produces exceptionally good coffee. In Rwanda coffee has brought hope for a better future since those dark days and the country is now rightly heralded as a top producer of fine speciality coffee. Coffee was introduced to Rwanda in 1903 by German missionaries. As a cash crop it received government backing but the focus was very much on quantity rather than quality. However the impact of the world coffee crisis in the late 1990s, when prices fell for several years below the cost of production, caused many Rwandan coffee farmers to rethink their position. Working hand in hand with the Rwandan Coffee Board (OCIR Café), international NGOs such as USAID, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other coffee-focused organisations, a speciality coffee sector was created in the early 2000s.
Coffee is grown in most parts of the country, with particularly large concentrations along Lake Kivu and in the southern province. Flowering takes place between September and October and the harvest runs from March to July with shipments starting in late May early June. The processing is based on washing the coffee with the usual set up that is typical throughout East Africa. The freshly delivered coffee is inspected to ensure only good red and ripe cherries are included. Then it is put into the receiving tank and inferior floaters are removed. The denser, high quality cherries are then pulped in a locally made disc pulper before entering a concrete fermentation tank where they are held for 12 to 15 hours. It is a dry fermentation process meaning that extra water is not added. After this time the mucilage is loose enough to be washed away and now the tank is filled with water, the coffee turned with a large wooden paddle and then drained. This process is repeated a further 4 times to ensure the coffee is clean before being channelled through water (and further floaters removed) before being transported to raised beds for drying. Initial drainage drying is under shade as the coffee could be damaged at this point if the heat is too high. Then it is taken to the drying tables under full sun where an army of colourfully clad women sort the beans by hand, removing defects and turning it regularly. This can take between 15 to 20 days.
The parchment coffee then goes to storage to be held for two months while it conditions (the evening of moisture content) before being trucked to the mill in Kigali. Here the parchment is milled away and any further defects are removed using light sorting machines. Gravity sorting machines are also used to remove broken beans and foreign bodies before the coffee is finally packed into 60 KG bags (lined with Grain Pro) and containerised for export. The coffee is trucked to either Dar es Salaam in Tanzania or Mombasa in Kenya where it is shipped.