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Growing the Right Way in Rwanda

Untimely rains caused a coffee shortage around the country right as specialty demand was peaking. Consequently, prices went through the roof and theft was rampant. Thanks to our strong partnerships (and a bit of lucky weather in the northern province) we were able to grow our volumes this year while hitting new high water marks for quality. Those two things don’t always go hand in hand. Sometimes chasing volume growth comes at the cost of quality. Thankfully, our key partners at Kinini believe that the only growth that makes sense is sustainable replicable growth. In Jacquie’s own words, “We didn’t want to outgrow ourselves.”

Before we look at the how, take a look at the amazing cup quality of this year’s Rwanda imports:

Kinini Village AA | Cantaloupe, lemonade, chocolate, cola, orange, brown sugar

Cocatu* | Orange marshmallow, cola, caramel, creamy honey, milk chocolate

*Currently the Kinini Village AA is in store. The remaining lots are scheduled to land at CTI in early March.

Rwanda New Arrivals

Supply Chains in Rwanda

If you are new to our supply chains in Rwanda, we source coffee primarily through two key partnerships, Nova Coffee and Kinini Coffee, pictured below. There are many parallels between these two groups. Both are located in the northern province, both are run by incredibly strong women, and both spend an incredible amount of energy to do things the right way. Since the Kinini Village AA lot is the only one that has landed so far, here is a small window into how Kinini was able to grow their volumes of specialty high-end coffee this year.

From left to right Theresa, Nova washing station manager, and Agnes, owner. Felix, Quality Control manager at Kinini.

Farmer Organization
While a LOT of energy has gone into improving processing over the years, something that is equally, if not more important, is helping farmers organize themselves. Since Kinini has launched just a few years ago, 7 new cooperatives have formed. Patrick, a member of Kinini’s leadership team who does so many jobs it’s difficult to put a title on him, spends at least 3 days a week visiting farmers and assisting them not only with their agronomy and farm management questions but also assisting them in organizing as a group. For context , this level of investment is at complete odds with other washing stations in the area who are all too happy to be dealing with individual smallholders. The cooperative that produces the Kinini Village AA lot that we buy is called the Cooperative Coffee Rusiga Sector, which is a group made up of 100% women and run by a women named Seraphina. Jacquie, one of the co-founders of Kinini calls Seraphina “someone not to be messed with”, which is high praise coming from Jacquie, and one of the main reasons for the collective buy-in on quality by the group.

Arc S

For those new to our Arc S sample roaster, it’s a roaster that I dreamed up after seeing problems in sample roasting across the supply chain, and over the last few years our incredible team made a reality. After many iterations, we got the Arc S to where we wanted it, and changed over to it in our own lab in Brooklyn. We immediately wanted to get it in the field, which is why we supported the team at Kinini with an Arc S last year. While I had high hopes for it, you really don’t know how things are going to go until people start getting their hands on it. When I asked the Kinini team why they thought their coffee improved this year in quality, their first answer was “The Arc S”. In their own words…

“The Arc S helped immediately in year 1. For the first time we could cup what was on the beds, and keep bad lots out and separate the best lots, and get a better understanding of what different parts of the harvest taste like. We were able to empower staff and farmers who felt more connected to the supply chain through tasting.”
Kinini is already off to the races with their sample roaster. They are in the process of building a flavor map of all areas that they work, and are linking this data with their comprehensive data-set from a company called WeatherSafe. For the last few years they have been receiving satellite imaging from WeatherSafe on a pro-bono level due to WeatherSafe’s belief in the Kinini model. It marries satellite images and weather tracking with on-the-ground soil samples to help farmers make more informed decisions about when/how to be caring for their farms. In Kinini‘s own words…
“Things change and it’s important to not make knee-jerk reactions. Things happen slowly here and it took 2-3 years to get a better understanding of the situation on farms. Now the system functions as a very helpful alert system for paying attention to the farm.”
They are already looking to the future, to continue to grow “the right way” as they see it. That includes Fairtrade certification rolling in 2022, Organic certification in 2023, and 4 new seedling sites with 10,000 seedlings each. Each of the seedlings was chosen from the best plants at each seedling site area, so that the strongest genes were being chosen that could thrive in that particular micro-climate.
I hope you all enjoy the fruits of this incredible harvest.

Kinini Coffee Cooperative

Good coffee comes from good people. We’d love to tell you more about each of these producers and their coffees. Get in touch to learn more.