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. Rwanda coffee is now rightly heralded as a top producer of fine speciality coffee.
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. The vast majority of Rwandan coffee is produced by smallholders of whom 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. Flowering takes place between September and October and the harvest runs from March to July with shipments starting in late May early June.
Our coffee comes from the Impala High Washing Station. This cooperative is situated in Bushengwe district of Western Rwanda and is comprised of around 200 members who grow their coffee at 1,600 to 1,700 metres above sea level. Red Bourbon, washed and sun dried on raised African beds.