Rwanda has one of the most interesting East African coffee histories. It is a place where the production of high-quality coffee is inextricably linked to the rising spirit of a population after the tragic genocidal civil war of the 1990s. Known as the "Land of a Thousand Hills," many of them are cultivated in high-grown coffee between 1700 and 2000 meters above sea level (MASL). Rwanda coffee can be world class. They often have clean bright flavors rivaling the best Central America coffees, more balance than Kenyas, attractive fruited sweetness, floral characteristics, and with a tea-like finish.
New crop Rwanda coffees are in. If you've been a customer with us for a while, you probably notice we carry coffees from a few of the same washing stations regularly. Coffee Villages is one of them, providing us with solid Bourbon coffee year after year. "Coffee Villages" is perhaps the oddest name I have ever encountered for a coffee mill ... odd in its blandness I suppose. Speaking with the owner I found that there was another mill with the name of the nearest town, so he felt he had to think up something else. Oh well. It is a private station located in the Eastern province, subdistrict of Karenge, with coffee farmers producing from 1600 to 1900 meters. The mill is owned by Tom Bagaza, who saw potential for quality coffee, buying the cherry direct from small farmers in this zone. The varietal is all Bourbon, and mostly the BM-139 type that does well in the Eastern soils. I found this coffee while cupping in Kigali and, despite the odd name, it was really nice. It's quite a bright coffee, and can stand up well to darker roasts, as well as the light ones where the brightness is most vivid. The Karenge station is traditional: a small 1 disc pulper as they use in Kenya, traditional fermentation, a long concrete washing channel to clean the coffee, and raised bed drying.
Coffee Villages is an approachable coffee - one that will satisfy those on the hunt for simple, yet refined cup characteristics. The dry fragrance is sweet with dry raspberry, powdered ginger, and a scent of fresh-baked brown bread with molasses. Darker roasts have more spice notes like clove and all-spice. In the wet aromatics there is intense dark malt sugar notes, and a pungent spice element that smells like root beer. There's a structured brightness in the cup, with rindy citrus and lemon zest, and a bit of black tea-like bittering in the finish. This is a straight forward Rwanda with a grain-like sweetness in light roasts that is like toasted rice or puffed honey wheat. A little more development brings about a flavor of maple cookie and toasted sugar. Fruit flavors are more apparent as the cup cools and are representative of dark dried fruits like date and raisin. The cup is really dynamic, clean, pointedly bright, and seems to improve even more with several days rest after roasting.
New Crop Rwandas are finally in, and we're starting it off (or rather, ending 2013) with this lot from Gitesi, which happens to be one of my favorite sites in Rwanda. Not only is it located in a beautiful valley, but the washing station looked clean, well-organized, and the leaders seemed motivated and competent. I had already cupped quite a few day lots (wet-process batches from coffee cherry received in a single day), and I knew the coffee was really good. The Gitesi site is at 1740 meters, actually one of the lower areas surrounded by high ridges ranging up to 2000 meters, where coffee is grown. 1,830 coffee farmers in the area supply Gitesi with cherries each year. The station fosters a relationship with the farmers by paying an additional dividend at the end of each season based on performance. Gitesi was started in 2005 and has been building capacity each year. Like much of Rwanda, the coffee is Bourbon variety. We "built" this lot by looking at all their day lot batches and combining the best ones. Early lots from Gitesi were not cupping consistently good, so we excluded those. But we found some excellent process batches from the middle harvest. And we're not the only ones noticing: Gitesi won COE a couple years back and continues to produce competition level coffees.
Gitesi continues to produce some of the best coffee we see from the region, and this year's lots are of significant quality. Right from the get-go, Gitesi has such an attractive set of aromatics - cardamom, caramel butter, turbinado sugar, and a floral-like Darjeeling tea note, are all representative in the dry grounds. Aspects of complex sugar browning come into full view when you add the hot water. The wet grounds have a rich sweetness at light roast levels. Brown sugar and butter hang heavy in the air and with a slight floral note underneath. There's a tartness to the cup that in light roasts especially takes on flavors of rose hips and mandarin orange. There's a refined sweetness as well, like raw cane sugar. Buttery flavors shift toward lactic/cream as the cup cools and with hints of vanilla, tastes of cream soda. Dark roasts are very sweet too and have cinnamon bark punch too with a pleasant woodiness. Gitesi changes quite a bit from light to dark roasts, and the sweetness is potent all the way to the outer edge of Full City (but for the most complex cup, don't stray far from City+/Full City). The finish is honeyed, and holds on long into the aftertaste. Gitesi brews so well, and will also make for a great SO espresso showing depth in sweetness.
You may have noticed a drastic reduction in price on this lot of Rwanda. No, we didn’t make a mistake, and yes, this is a delicious and still-current crop of Nyamasheke coffee. We cupped so many amazing samples from this region which simply made it difficult for us to say ‘no’ to the variety of lots we brought in this year. As a result, we’re slightly over the limit on what we’d like to have on hand and have decided to cut the cost of this coffee in an effort to make room for the array of newly landing coffees. Our loss, your gain!
This lot comes to us from the Southwestern portion of Lake Kivu - the Nyamasheke region. This particular region is one of the richest coffee growing areas in Rwanda. The mountainous peaks surrounding the lake are beautiful and the slopes provide great altitude for coffee farmers to cultivate. This Nyamasheke lot comes from dizzying altitudes of 2000 masl-plus, and is made up of several small lots that are processed at a central washing station. Depulping of the coffee cherry is done on disc depulpers, before the beans are fermented for a day or so. After, the coffee is washed in long channels and the then soaked again. They implement raised bed coffee drying, which helps to facilitate airflow and allows for even drying.
This lot of Nyamasheke has great body which props up the sometimes basic, but very sweet and pleasant profile nicely. The dry grounds have a dark raisin smell to them with candied ginger in darker roasts. Hot water brings on a scent of brown sugar in butter - very sweet and creamy. A note of fig pudding comes up off the break. The cup is very juicy and has a sweet, natural sugar taste and is accented by a hint of vanilla. The finish has a sort of saturated black tea note. We cupped three different roasts and City+ is about the lightest we'd roast this coffee. At this level it's subtly fruited, and with a bolstered sweetness in the profile. This would be great as an addition to an espresso blend or as a SO espresso as well.