The Coffee of the Summer: Rwanda Kirorero, Washed

Posted by Sam Thomas on

It’s always exciting to have coffee from Rwanda in our offerings. Rwanda is a relatively small country, about the size of the state of Maryland, and only produces about 0.2% of the global coffee supply. This means that coffees from Rwanda aren’t available from importers for very long, and the good ones go quickly!

We recently added Rwanda Kirorero to our line-up for the summer. We love the light, floral and juicy grapefruit-like sweetness from this coffee, perfect for a seasonal offering on drip or espresso for a sparkling, syrupy coffee that pairs well with a fun summer day. 

Photo courtesy of Cafe Imports

Cooperative Program

This offering comes from the COOPAC cooperative in Rwanda. Founded in 2001 with around 1100 members, the cooperative has now grown to 2198 members with around 50 washing stations along the northern shore of Lake Kivu. Currently, COOPAC invests heavily in agroforestry education for all its members to aid in the organic farming practices that the cooperative utilizes. Outside of coffee, COOPAC has helped to improve their local community with the construction of schools, health-care clinics, roads, and bridges as well as local women and youth development programs.

The Land of a Thousand Hills

The Western Province, also known as The Land of a Thousand Hills, is a beautiful lakeside region with high elevation and rich soil. It borders the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the west and Burundi to the south, with Lake Kivu separating the DRC and Rwanda. Because of Rwanda’s geographical size, finding the exact location where the coffee is grown can be difficult since coffee is grown all over a relatively small country. Usually, roasters and/or importers will denote the coffee by the name of the farmer, co-op, or washing station. In this case, the coffee can be traced to the Western Province and, more specifically, to the Kirorero Washing station. 

A Varietal of Mysterious Origin

The Bourbon varietal is one of the most common varietals cultivated in Rwanda as well as being one of the most important varieties in the Cof­fea Ara­bi­ca lineage. French missionaries introduced Bourbon from Yemen when it was still called Typica to Bourbon Island (now La Réunion)—giving it the name it has today—in the early 1700s. For most of its early life, Bourbon did not leave the island, until the late 19th century when missionaries began to expand, and bring coffee to the Americas eventually back to Africa. It is here that we see the genetic mutation of the varietal due to exposure to different climates and elevations. 

This natural mutation, as well as mixing with other varietals, spawned Catura, Mundo Novo, and eventually varietals like Pacamara. In fact, most Bourbon varieties that we see in Central and South America don’t exactly match the Bourbon we find in Africa. 

While this particular offering is a Bourbon, it’s tough to exactly specify which Bourbon it is. The history of Rwanda’s oldest varietal (Mibirizi) isn’t well documented. Coffee from Guatemala (most likely Typica) was brought to Rwanda by German missionaries to Mibirizi which also mixed with the Bourbon from French missions. By the early 1900’s Bourbon had already gone across the globe and back, and had mutated from its original genetics on Bourbon Island. Today, most coffee grown in Rwanda is mostly Bourbon Mayaguez 71 or Bourbon Mayaguez 139. Both are similar to the parent varietal in terms of cup quality and agronomic performance.

Photo courtesy of Cafe Imports

Slower Fermentation for Flavor

Like most coffees from Rwanda, this is a washed process coffee. Washed coffee from Rwanda has a unique soaking step in the process, similar to coffees close by in Kenya. After depulping and the bulk of the fermentation, the coffees are soaked in water for 24 hours, where the coffee will continue to ferment at a slower rate. The extra soaking step helps in removing the mucilage as well as extending the fermentation time resulting in the clean, sparkling taste that washed East African coffees are known for. 

In our roastery

Currently, we are offering this coffee as a light-roasted single-origin option in our toll roasting program. This coffee is an excellent option to expand your menu with a unique offering that won’t be too different from other washed African. Customers who love coffees from Ethiopia will find similarities in this coffee while experiencing the unique flavor of grapefruit, rooibos tea, and dark cherries that sparkles with every sip. 

References

World Coffee Research. Varieties Catalog. WCR, 2024. varieties.worldcoffeeresearch.org/varieties/Bourbon. Accessed June 20, 2024

World Coffee Research. Varieties Catalog. WCR, 2024. varieties.worldcoffeeresearch.org/varieties/Bourbon-mayaguez-139. Accessed June 20, 2024

World Coffee Research. Varieties Catalog. WCR, 2024. varieties.worldcoffeeresearch.org/varieties/mibirizi . Accessed June 20, 2024

Kilimanjaro Specialty Coffees España S.L.U. How does the Bourbon variety get to Rwanda? Dec 17 2022. https://www.coffeekilimanjaro.com/education/how-does-the-bourbon-variety-get-to-rwanda. Accessed June 20 2024

Cafe Imports. Offerings, 2024. https://www.cafeimports.com/north-america/offerings?view=beanology.view.coopac-kirorero-kaganza-washed-flo-id-35306-21542. Accessed June 19, 2024

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