The best coffee you've never heard of is in Rwanda
In the world today, there are people who knowing all we know still wake up and drink tea. Thankfully, I am not one of them. I am a wake up, proceed to the fridge, remove coffee beans, grind beans in stainless steel grinder with bare hands, boil water, pour ground coffee into French press, pour water into French press, walk around for 4 minutes, retrieve favorite mug, press the press, pour black gold substance also known as holy water to its devotees, add orange blossom honey, take a deep beath, and send it down the coffee bean water with delight kind of human.
Coffee is so sacred in my life that my almost 4-year-old wakes me up on the weekend with a ”Mama get up we have to make coffee” nudge. It is our love language.
I don't know why I wasn't aware of Rwanda’s coffee prowess all this while but thankfully the veil has been lifted from mine eyes, and my coffee cup runneth over.
My first night in Kigala I went to the airport to check if my bag had arrived. It had not. I decided to get a sim card at the MTN booth which is just at the foot of the departure ramp. There I met a woman (a muzungu/orpoto) who looked really familiar to me.
”I’m sorry but do I know you from somewhere?” Said I.
Muzungu woman smiles and says I don't think so.
”I swear I know you. Have you ever been to Sierra Leone? Do you have any relationship with Haverford College? Columbia? Are you on TV?”
To my questions she gave a warm smile. Her name was Ruth, my coffee guardian angel.
”Well those are mighty fine schools but no I don't. And I'm certainly not on TV, ” she ended still smiling.
”Where are you from?”
”Michigan! And you?
”That’s a mighty fine American accent you got there Miss Sierra Leone”
I burst into laughter almost forgetting the feeling of angst around being commando in a foreign country.
”I grew up on the East Coast, in Maryland. What are you doing in Rwanda?”
”I buy coffee, ” she said.
I felt instant euphoria. Like a shipwreck on a deserted island just about to be rescued. What are the odds of meeting a stranger who you recognize from a former life at the phone center and they are an exporter of coffee? Oh ancestors! I hail you! This 2019 you’re doing thangs! I must go to magbailay and pour libations for you before this year is over. We must have a sara because ancestors you are awake! I hail you to all corners of the earth. Continue to bless your daughter. *insert image of me doing naked ancient Temne tribal dance here*
Anyway let us go back to coffee, the ancestors have been appeased.
Naturally I asked Ruth where she thought I could find the best coffee in Kigali. She said oh go to Question Coffee.
”YES! Question Coffee. They want you to question everything!”
Coffee is Rwanda’s number 1 export. It was introduced there by a colonizer, a German one. Not that I mention him to give any credit to him at all because we don't give credit to no colonizer. I only state it because that is the fact that was told to me at the Kandt History Museum.
Coffee contributed an average of 24 percent to total agricultural exports over the last decade. It supports livelihoods of over 400,000 farmers. Rwanda exported some $64 million worth of coffee last year (an increase of $6 million from the previous year), mostly to China, US, and Europe. The growers and the government are making sure that the coffee is correct so that coffee revenues increase annually (and it been working).
Taking my new coffee bestie’s advice I planned a trip to Question Coffee before my adventure into town to buy clothes, bra, and ‘drosss’ (produced ‘drawers’ by colonizers).
Question Coffee is a social enterprise of 74 cooperative of 32,000 women coffee growers in Rwanda. Thirty-percent of the proceeds of the coffee go back into the women’s pockets while 70% is reinvested back into the company. Yup! 100% of all of the funds goes back into training and support for the cooperatives.
I can not tell how good it made me feel to buy coffee there. The only thing better than the story was the coffee. They really know their coffee. I had the Gisuma blend the first time and you know it was just so clean, and bright, I just could not believe it. I know a lot of people associate coffee with bitterness (amateurs) but really there is nothing like a medium roast blend of some fully washed beans. Beyond just excellent brew, Question Coffee offers coffee tastings, and coffee tours to farming cooperatives to meet growers firsthand.
And then to watch your coffee get measured, ground, and put in and hand dripped just for you really is a dream. Shoutout to Betty who I met on my first trip to Question Coffee. She not only made my brew, she also shared the organization's story with me. (that link is a video I made of my trip to Q Coffee. You will want to watch it after you finish reading)
There are many coffee shops in Kigali. In fact the coffee at my hotel, Gorillas Golf Hotel was also amazing. There’s was the second best coffee I had. Also had the brew at Inzora Rooftop Café at the back of the amazing Ikerezi Bookstore. I say incredible because it had so many amazing books of all genres. Honestly, the best stocked bookstore I’ve been to on the continent.
I write all this to say that yes Rwanda, yes agriculture, yes Question Coffee, yes to sustainable fair trade enterprises in Africa, and yes to coffee!
More about Question Coffee
”In 2013, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Sustainable Harvest® partnered to create the Relationship Coffee Institute, a non-profit public benefit corporation committed to transforming the lives of rural, low-income women coffee farmers through training and market access. Question Coffee is supported by the Relationship Coffee Institute to provide a retail and training space where Rwanda's specialty coffee professionals and consumers can gather to experience the country's vibrant coffee sector.