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Rwanda – September, 2007

Sparking the Quality Revolution in Eastern Africa

Rwanda has been one of the focuses of the quality coffee revolution since funds began pouring into the country after the genocide in 1995. With the help of the PEARL and now SPREAD projects, funded by USAID and spear-headed by longtime African development project leader, Tim Schilling, Rwanda appears to be on the cusp of becoming one of the foremost quality producers in the world. 90+, state-of-the-art washing stations have been built in the past 5 years enabling Rwandan coffee producers to present an excellent product to the world market. The Stumptown has been purchasing Rwandan coffees since the advent of these projects and remains committed to increase its support of this magnificent coffee producing country for the future.

Part of this support came just recently as we participated on the international juror’s panel for the first ever ‘Rwandan Golden Cup’ cupping competition that sought to distinguish the country’s very finest coffees from the rest of the pack. Myself and the rest of the jurors, representing the US, England, Japan, Rwanda, Tanzania and beyond, waded through the top 46 samples that made it through rigorous cupping and grading in the week prior, by the national jury. All of these coffees brought something significant to the table.

Cupping competitions along these lines evaluate coffees by cleanliness, sweetness, acidity, body, aftertaste, balance, and flavor as well as an overall score that is kind of a bonus category. The best possible score is a 100 points and that is reserved for less than a handful of coffees on the planet. After round one, I already had a 94, a pair of 93’s and several 91’s and 90’s scored. This was going to be one historic competition! Flavors like mandarin citrus, Japanese plum, candied ginger, cane sugar, black currant and milk chocolate gushed out of these coffees and onto our palates. It was another one of those moments that made me realize I wouldn’t trade my gig for any other on earth.

As we moved into the semifinals I actually dropped a 98 on a coffee which is something I’ve done for only one other coffee; Hacienda La Esmeralda Especial at the Best of Panama auction a couple of years ago. My 93’s became 96’s and the 91’s became 93’s. These coffees mesmerized me. They had me in a trance and my scores were reflective of their beautiful nature. I scored another 98 and some 96’s in the final only to be outdone by a perfect score of 100! Nothing was going to stop the Stumptown from purchasing that coffee the following day at the open outcry auction.

We purchased the first place coffee for the highest recorded price paid to a coffee producer in Rwandan coffee history. We also purchased the 3rd (from our longtime friends and producer partners at the Karaba Cooperative) and 4th place coffees for the 2nd and 3rd highest prices, respectively, ever paid to a coffee producer in Rwanda. Our beloved Musasa finished 16th and 17th with the two lots they entered. That’s not so bad considering the newly constructed private mills stole the show from the cooperatives. All of the 20 finalists are deserving of the excellent prices commanded at auction. We fell in love with ours so quickly that we aren’t even going to wait for a boat to ship them on. They’ll be flown out of Rwanda to our doorstep in Portland in the coming weeks! Keep your eyes peeled.