Coffee Talk: Rwanda

By Danny Pinnell, SCAA

Coffee Talk: Rwanda

As we begin gearing up in preparation for The Event in April, planning meetings become more frequent to make sure we’re ready for you all to join us in Seattle. This week’s staff meeting was entirely devoted to the show, but it wouldn’t be complete without our weekly coffee talk.

This coffee talk was a bit different though. We had some all-star Barista Guild of America (BGA) visitors at this week’s meeting, one of whom was Julie Housh of Intelligentsia Coffee and Chair of the BGA. She brought with her some of Intelligentsia’s Rwandan coffee, which sparked a very interesting discussion.

Only about ten years ago, coffee from Rwanda was “overtly not specialty.” (Fun fact: “specialty coffee” was first used in 1974 by Erna Knutsen in an issue of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. Knutsen used this term to describe beans of the best flavor which are produced in special microclimates). Intelligentsia Coffee, thanks in large part to Geoff Watts (their vice president of coffee and head green buyer) is one of the leaders in embracing Rwanda as an origin.

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Photo courtesy of Justine Esquivel

Housh mentioned Rwanda as being very “near and dear” to both Intelligentsia and Watts. During a project in Rwanda, Watts discovered that the farmers there typically treated coffee as a cash crop without having a culture of consuming it themselves. “We started the program in Rwanda to teach coffee farmers how to prepare and consume their own coffee so they could be their own quality control,” said Watts in a 2011 interview with coolhunting.com.

Rwanda is a specialty coffee success story due to Watts’ passion as well as the Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL) project, directed by Dr. Timothy Schilling in 2000. This project focused on rebuilding Rwanda from the impacts of the genocide and civil war of 1994 by generating revenue through the development of agricultural products and market linkages and increasing attention to quality control and consistency in production.

You can learn more about the success story of Rwandan coffee harvests in A Film About Coffee.