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.
This is a special 20 lbs sampler that consists of 4 different coffees. We have so many amazing lots from Africa right now that we thought it would be fun to offer some variety and value to our home roasters. Normally when you buy a 20 lbs bag of coffee from us it has to be all one single origin or blend. Well, now you can try the XL Africa Sampler and we'll select 4 of our top lots from Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Burundi. So, no cloth bag or anything fancy, just 4 of our regular 5 lbs bags of 4 different coffees.
Due to the special pricing for this sampler we cannot honor special requests nor accept returns. Thanks.
Here is an example of the lots you'll see included in the XL Africa Sampler, keep in mind we will be doing the selecting and lots will come and go, but trust us, we'll pick 4 great lots along the lines of the following:
Cocatu is a cooperative in the area of Tumba town, in the very mountainous Rulindo district, Northern Rwanda. Located at 1820 meters, the coop actually draws coffee from the surrounding hills up to 2100 meters. Cocatu receives support from a Kigali-based group who not only provides advice on technical agronomy, but also offers business support to the coop. The later has been absent from many well-intentioned efforts to support cooperative coffee farmers, and can lead to unbearable debt when a coop leaders do not have good business and accounting training. It's not as interesting as discussing cultivars, altitudes and micro-climates, but most coops fail for lack of management, not lack of coffee quality. With this lot, the farmer received 65% of the price we paid, which, when you consider all the expenses to the cooperative to process the coffee, the dry-milling, transport, and export costs, is a higher stake than we have seen in many places. To me, that's sustainable agriculture in a broader sense of the term.
The dry fragrance has apple and plum sweetness, with brown sugar and milk-chocolate caramel as well. The wet aroma has confectionairy notes of chocolate custard, sweet cream and cooked peach. On the break there's the scent of spiced tea; cinnamon and a touch of clove. Overall Cocatu is a hefty, yet balanced cup when we compare it to other Rwandas, with thick body and good bittersweet intensity. The brightness has a red berry character, while underneath lies a more latent dark fruited character that comes out as the coffee cools: spiced blackberry and stewed plums. There is a pleasant tannic tea note in the finish of the cup, and spiced accents that lend dimension to the bittersweets of the roast taste. Lighter roasts are especially juicy, with the blend of red and dark berry making a distinct impression, and the acidity is more grape-like (tartaric) in the lighter levels. As it was last year, the new crop of Cocatu is a real stunner.
Gitesi is 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. We were not alone in finding great coffee at Gitesi; the Cup of Excellence jury did as well, since the coffee was awarding the 1st Place this year.
This coffee has a really nice caramel-vanilla and ginger cookie notes from the ground coffee. There's mild citric and floral hints as well, and these come into full view when you add the hot water. Hints of rose and mandarin emerge in the wet aroma, in addition to a well-saturated sweetness, honeyed in the lighter roast and more dark caramel at Full City roast level. The cup is sweet and amazingly "complete" in the lighter roasts for such a delicately bright coffee, with a brilliant acidity. The mandarin orange notes are quite distinct in the cup, especially at City roast. There's a refined sweetness, like pure cane syrup. There are apricot hints and the floral note of acacia blooms. As the cup cools the sweetness has a clean clover honey character, with a long aftertaste floral and sweet citrus. I believe it really shines at City roast, where the coffee looks a bit variegated and patchy in surface color and texture, before it "smooths out" toward Full City level. The first sip can seem a bit plain, but it really opens up as the cup cools. Of many roasts and many cups, I did have 1 potato defect cup from Gitesi. If it is present at all, it seems to be a rare occurrence. But if you wonder what this defect smells like, I guarantee you will know when you get a cup with it.
Coffee Villages is perhaps the oddest name I have ever encountered for a coffee mill ... odd in its blandness I suppose. I visited in the harvest for this current crop, and 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.
The dry fragrance is sweet with butter caramel candy, a hint of banana, molasses, fresh-baked brown bread. In the wet aromatics there is intense dark malt sugar notes, plum, pungent spice and in the lighter roast a sage blossom honey. The cup has a structured brightness in the cup, also with an 'orange and spice' character, with black tea-like bittering in the finish. As it cools the cup opens up to a new set of flavors; black cherry and baked apple, cola, caramel, cranberry. This coffee turns noticeably sweeter with a little more roast. I felt that City roast was rather austere, minimal, spare, and the brightness quite tart. City+ roast, with more development after 1st crack highlights more of the honey-vanilla character and the brightness seems more integrated. Full City was wonderful of course too! The cup is really dynamic, clean, pointedly bright, and seems to improve even more with several days rest after roasting.