From Origin

Rwanda’s reluctant Romance with Coffee

Some of the best coffee beans in the world are grown in Africa, and while the number of coffee consumers is growing, most Africans still don’t drink it. That’s something Rwanda’s government would like to change.

The country’s coffee industry, which nearly collapsed after the genocide in 1994, has gradually become one of its largest and most profitable agricultural exports.

Rwanda exports around 80% of its coffee, its second-largest export earner, with just 16% of its homegrown produce being consumed domestically.

Turns out that Rwandans would rather drink tea, soft drinks or a cold beer than brew a cup of coffee.

Rwanda exports some of the world’s best produce of coffee. Picture: Supplied

This has not merely lowered revenues, since roasted beans are worth more green cherries, but in addition it has stunted the growth of the domestic coffee culture- there have been just 15 coffee roasting companies across the country.

Rwandan coffee, in the green cherry form, is mainly exported to Switzerland, USA and Singapore, with primary African destinations being South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. The United States has long relied on the green coffee cherries being exported and roasted into brown beans abroad and imported back.

Now, the government wants to increase the domestic market – mostly by tapping into the expendable cash of Rwanda’s growing middle class.

The Rwandan government is attempting to get its citizens to at least try what they grow.

For the past couple of years, government-sponsored radio ads have been touting the benefits of drinking coffee and telling people that the drink isn’t just for foreigners.

In the past decade, privately owned coffee shops have popped up in Kigali, the country’s capital, however coffee is expensive because Rwanda doesn’t have enough places to roast the beans. They are exported to Europe or the United States, then re-imported after roasting.

For most Rwandans, the price of coffee makes it unattainable. A single cup costs 2,500 francs – about R45. That’s the equivalent of several days’ pay in Rwanda. Most Rwandans drink soft drinks and tea, which cost a lot less.

Che Rupari, who opened Neo Coffee in Kacyiru 4 years back, says that his store sees a variety of locals and expats.

“It isn’t an area of culture yet, most people understand that visiting a cafe includes people working, browsing the internet, enjoying a beverage, but its changing with the new generation,” Rupari, whose spacious cafe (kitted out with large benches and tables) encourages networking and entrepreneurial events.

Angel Mutoni, 22, a cashier at Neo Coffee, {who also studies law} says coffee is really a hit with sleep-deprived students.

Mutoni admits, however, that lots of new coffee drinkers who discover the taste and purchase coffee find the hot drink peculiar. “It really is expensive, however when they come, they’re invited by me to taste it. I provide them with the lightest brew”, Mutoni says.

Igor Miller, 21, a waiter at the Bourbon cafe in KTC, which is among the first establishments to open in Kigali, says the amount of clients at the Bourbon cafe has risen within the last year. “Individuals were not used to the taste of coffee, however they are seeing it differently now”, Miller says.

Miller adds, however, that regardless of the hype around coffee, he is yet to try a cup of coffee. “I still can’t stand it. I’m just here to work”, he says laughing out loud.

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