Rwanda is a relatively new coffee growing region – with the first coffee not being exported until 1917. The crop was initially introduced by German missionaries, but rule over Rwanda was transferred to Belgium after World War I. In the 1930s, Belgian colonists forced Rwandan farmers to grow coffee as a compulsory crop with strict control over exports and heavy taxes on producers; a common practice they had already established in neighbouring Burundi.
By the 1990s coffee was Rwanda’s most valuable export, but the brutal 1994 genocide devastated the country. This also had a huge impact on the coffee industry, at a time when worldwide coffee prices were hitting new lows. Coffee has since become a symbol of recovery and new potential in the aftermath of the genocide. As foreign aid flowed in, a large emphasis was placed on the coffee sector. The introduction of washing stations, and a new found openness towards specialty buyers has been greatly beneficial for the Rwandan economy. Currently Rwanda stands as the only African country to host a Cup of Excellence competition, fetching high auction prices for outstanding lots.
Washed Arabica coffee is the most exported product from the ‘land of one thousand hills’, usually exhibiting the fruity sweetness of apples, grapes and berries with distinct floral qualities.
There is also a curious defect that is uniquely found in coffees from Burundi and Rwanda, known as the ‘potato defect’. This is caused by an unknown bacteria that releases a toxin under the cherry’s skin. While the defect doesn’t have any harmful health affects, it releases an incredibly powerful flavour of starch/earth/raw potatoes. The Potato Defect is undetectable after post-harvesting processing, so it must be sorted out at origin. Great work is being done to eradicate the defect, and the top farms at Rwanda are becoming increasingly better at sorting out these defective beans.