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Rwandan coffee pushes for distinction

Roasted coffee beans

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: If you're like me, you need your morning coffee to wake up -- especially at these hours. But the Central African country of Rwanda is getting an economic jolt. It's trying to conquer one piece of the coffee market by producing specialty beans. Anna Boiko-Weyrauch reports.


Anna Boiko-Weyrauch: A lot of Rwanda's economic future depends on what happens right here on a tiny island in the middle of Lake Kivu. Walking around, your feet sink into the hay under acres of coffee trees. Their beans grow at high elevations in volcanic soil, making them fragrant and sweet.

Last year, coffee like this made Rwanda $47 million U.S. It's the country's most lucrative export. But in the scheme of things, Rwanda is just a tiny part of the global market.

Alex Kanyankole is the director of the Rwandan coffee board. He says growing specialty coffee is the only way they can get ahead.

Alex Kanyankole: We only stand an advantage if we produce high-quality coffee that can be admired because of its distinct quality.

In the past, farmers were encouraged to produce a large volume of coffee. Then the price plunged in the late 80's. Peasants were left with a lot of coffee trees, but nothing to eat.

This time around they're trying to avoid that. The government wants their beans to be the Gucci or Chanel of the coffee world. But to do that, they need this guy: the coffee cupper. The official taste-tester. He slurps up the coffee and spits it out. Then he rates it on things like acidity and sweetness.

If they're deemed worthy, these beans are sold to stores across Europe and the U.S. But some of the profits filter back to Rwanda's local communities.

Emmanuel Rwakagera is president of the COOPAC coffee cooperative. He says coffee proceeds have helped his farmers.

Emmanuel Rwakagera (voice of interpreter): Our organization was able to build the first school here in 2005. The next year, we built another just a little ways down from the factory.

Sales of luxury goods are down everywhere, but the Rwandan coffee board isn't worried. They say people will keep drinking coffee, even high-end brands, during a global recession.

In Gisenyi, Rwanda, I'm Anna Boiko-Weyrauch for Marketplace.

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Dear Steven Marcus, I'd like to answer your querry on Rwanda's stability. Rwanda is currently secure and democratic as any safe country you can imagine, its people are free and have a voice. The country has steadily emerged from war that ravaged it, development has really picked-up as well as human rights. The country's President is a leader with vision, and has literally implemented it. I'd not at all list the country as a rogue state as you may think, but list it as a state that has made achievements despite all the atrocities its people faced.
The country's economy has tremendously improved as well as its coffee sector-all because of its high security, democracy and good governance the people are enjoying. The coffee sector has now major coffee partners from all over the world that include, Starbucks and Costco. Starbucks has even opened up its farmer support center in Kigali Rwanda, in order to improve the country's coffee quality.

Therefore,don't hesitate to get your Rwandan bag of coffee now!

I just purchased the Rwandan Coffee from Costco today and was very pleased with the quality. It is definitely some of the best coffee I've tasted. I hope that Costco continues their efforts with the growers of Rwanda which will continue to transform the Rwandan economy.

Diana Dettwyler
Web Admin
Speak Rwanda

I prefer a strong roast coffee and had a bag of Rwandan coffee in my hand yesterday at Costco and did not buy it wondering if I would be giving funds to support a rogue state or one in which there were atrocities happening. Anyone have the answer as to how stable the country is and what sort of freedom its citizens have?

I never tried African coffee until recently, and I have to say I found one from Rwanda that is really outstanding. It's the best I've tried from ANY country. It's called Silverback Coffee of Rwanda. Also, I saw on the label that the company gives back a portion of its profits to help victims of the genocide, which is really cool. So if you ever get a chance to try this coffee, definitely DO!! First, you'll LOVE it and second you'll know you're contributing to a great cause!

For several years after "the troubles" in Rwanda, we saw little to none of their coffee. As things started to settle, we began to get some, and I desparately wanted to source some good coffee from this country, to help revive them by buying it. Trouble is, all I found to sample was really junk. Last year, however, I came across a really outstanding lot, and bought some. I have not been disappointed. I now suppose it took a few years to bring the plants back to peak quality production. Their intention to produce and distribute top quality coffee is what will set them apart from much of the rest of Africa, and if this one lot is representative of what we can expect from Rwanda in the years to come, their place toward the top of the Specialty Coffee industry should be assured, I for one will be most pleased to see their success, particularly after what they've been through as a nation. Their conscious determination to excell will stand them in good stead vis a vis the rest of the coffee producing world.

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