Intro by Chris Kornman with Charlie Habegger
It’s hard to believe my last visit to Rwanda was already five years ago. I had planned to return this past summer, but COVID-19 has made international travel increasingly problematic for globetrotting coffee buyers, so we’ve had to settle for emails, zoom meetings, phone calls, and lots of samples.
But back in 2015 I happened on a hillside coffee washing station a stone’s throw from Lake Kivu, a breathtakingly picturesque shoreline splitting Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Islands in the lake rise up dramatically through misty mornings, and the gentle waves, navigated by canoes and steamboats, are also home to otters and waterfowl. The lake itself sits at 1459 meters above sea level, and the surrounding hills can cap at over 2000. Coffee in the region abounds.
In the years since my visit, founder and chairperson Furaha Umwizeye Teuscher has established herself as one of the region’s top producers under the brand Kivu Belt. She’s recruited an exceptional independent quality control team called Ikawa House led by Laetitia Mukandahiro and Uzziel Habimana, two of the countries’ most gifted and experienced cuppers with a combined 30+ years of experience and stints at basically every major specialty export office.
The Kivu Belt estate is a rarity in Rwanda, where smallholder farming is the norm. Under Umwizeye’s leadership, and the guidance of her farm manager Gaspard Nsengimana, Kivu Belt has planted 90,000 coffee trees on their estate, which now employ more than 400 people during harvest months and is a kind of coffee vocational school for local smallholders interested in improving their farming. Kivu Belt has also acquired two washing stations, Murundo and Jarama, which process coffee from the company’s estates as well as that of more than 500 smallholders in the region, offering quality premiums and training programs for participating farming families.
I’m not exactly sure what it is about Murundo that’s so special, but this is the second year we’ve made a Crown Jewel from one of its day lots. Murundo is located in Mahembe, arguably producing some of the region’s finest coffees and Murundo itself placing third in the 2018 CoE. This lot is a “People’s Farm” outturn, another term for smallholder coffee growers and the households they support. We picked up a wide range of complex and balanced fruit flavors ranging from Mandarin orange and white grape to pomegranate, apricot, cranberry. There’s a light rosy floral note, an elegant silky body, and strong vanilla sweetness. It’s just Rwandan coffee at its best.
The Nyamasheke district in Rwanda is gifted in terroir. The cool, humid climates of both Lake Kivu and the Nyungwe Forest National Park keep groundwater abundant throughout the uniquely hilly region. Kivu itself is part of the East African Rift whose consistent drift creates volcanic seepage from the lake’s bottom and enriches the surrounding soils. Coffees from this region are often jammier and heavier than in the rest of the country. Murundo’s coffees in particular are full of complex sugars, currant-like acids, blackberry and spice flavors, and round, soft textures.
The messy history of Rwandan coffee begins with Belgian colonization and cultivation under duress, followed by neglect and eventual demise in the mid-1990’s as the country reeled from a devastating civil war. Rwanda’s former cash crop, however, would roar to international buyer attention in the late 2000’s thanks to one of East Africa’s most successful coffee interventions, the Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL). PEARL was a sweeping infrastructure and education investment targeting large regions of Rwanda whose coffee was for the most part processed poorly at home and exported with little traceability. The program, designed and led by the Michigan State University, Texas A&M, and a host of Rwandan organizations, vastly increased processing hygiene by building washing stations. It also organized remote and under-resourced smallholders into cooperative businesses capable of specialty partnerships.
Perhaps most significantly for the long term, it took the legacy bourbon genetics buried in abandon and polished them anew to the amazement of coffee drinkers everywhere. In the decade following PEARL and subsequent investments in the country’s coffee sector, Rwanda, one of the most rapidly modernizing countries on the continent, has built steadily on top of those first coffees, and we as buyers now have an awe-inspiring reference for how snappy, mouth-watering, and kaleidoscopic the bourbon lineage can be. Kivu Belt is one example of focused entrepreneurship aimed at a very specific landscape.
Green Analysis by Nate Lumpkin
This washed coffee from Rwanda comes to us with above average density, approximately average moisture content, and somewhat below average water activity. Its screen size is well sorted and tightly clustered around sized 16 and 17, with only small amounts falling outside of that. Coffee with high quality green metrics should lend itself to easy roasting, though its higher density may resist heat, especially early in the roast, so consider increasing energy early on for best results. Take a look at Candice and Evan’s roast notes for more in depth analysis of how this coffee behaves in the roaster.
The variety here is from the Bourbon family, a well-known variety selected from Yemen landraces and largely disseminated across the world by French missionaries and colonists. Bourbon was first introduced in the Americas in southern Brazil during the 1860s, and spread north into Central America from there. Though Bourbon is highly susceptible to disease, it is prized for its good productivity and high cup quality potential.
Ikawa Pro V3 Analysis by Nate Lumpkin
As of September 2020 we are running all Crown Jewel Analysis roasts on an Ikawa Pro V3, using the most recent app and firmware version on “closed loop” setting.
This triple-washed Rwanda is going to be making its debut on the espresso bar here at the Crown shortly, so I was excited to get the chance to run this coffee through the Ikawa to see how it behaves. I’ve come to expect bright acids and citruses from Rwanda, and this one is no exception. While I find many of our coffees to be versatile and behave well in different roast profiles, this coffee I found to stand out on one profile in particular, our hot and fast standard profile, though the other profiles were delicious as well.
That standard profile produced a particularly bright and juicy cup. It had an intoxicating red plum aroma and a hint of dark chocolate. In the cup, I tasted notes of spiced plum, green apple, tangerine, and an overall juicy, bright stone fruit quality, like nectarine or a tart peach. It had a honey sweetness, and a syrupy body. I found this cup really delicious, and my favorite overall.
Our second, somewhat longer profile with an extension of the Maillard phase produced a cup with a caramel aroma, and notes in the cup of red plum, cranberry juice, nectarine, apple cider, and brown sugar, with a heavy, enveloping body. This cup was also really delicious, but I missed the broad range of stone fruit and citrus which I experienced on the first cup. The flavor profile was somewhat simplified, though still really nice.
Our last, longer and cooler profile produced a cup that was a little disappointing: it had an indistinct and mild aroma, with a lemon acidity without the flavor, and notes of navel orange, orange peel, milk chocolate, and caramel, with a citrus finish. I found this profile lacked the best qualities of the previous profiles, and I can’t really recommend it. I’d go with something a little hotter and a little faster, to bring out those delicious acidities.
You can download the profile to your Ikawa Pro app here:
Roast 1: Crown Standard SR 1.0
Roast 2: Crown Maillard +30 SR 1.0
Roast 3: Crown 7m SR LowAF 2
Diedrich Analysis by Candice Madison
About 12 years ago… Wait, no, sorry, 2020 has been a decade long, but the math still stands. Anyhow, about 12 years ago, starting out in specialty coffee, Rwandan coffees had become known amongst us sophomoric professionals, for two things; inconsistency and blending. I throw my hands up and admit that I was less than enthused about the origin. Fast forward five or six years and Rwanda became the origin I most wanted to visit. Not only had the coffee being produced been grown, processed and sorted with meticulous practices, the flavors whilst all characteristic of the origin had become, to this young professional, so much more nuanced, complex and developed.
I can only admire and wonder at the vision of Furaha Umwizeye Teuscher. Her work as a producer is impressive in the extreme, considering the number of farmers, QC experts, and other staff, that Kivu Belt works with to produce, honestly, one of the best examples of Rwandan coffee that I have tasted in, well, probably since last year! This mature(-r) professional now things two things when it comes to Rwandan coffee; consistency and single origin everything, please and thank you!
I moved away from the Probatino this week and gave our cherry red Diedrich IR-5 a whirl. We don’t always get the chance to still 4lbs of coffee for one analysis, so I’m always secretly delighted when I can fire up this girl. Hedging my bets, I started the roast at a slightly higher charge temperature. Although this batch is smaller than the usual 6lb production batch I roast on this machine, I always take my cue from the green metrics. In this case it was telling that, although the bean size aggregated around 17 (16-18), there was a significant percentage of beans at screen size 15, so a chance that the coffee may be a little harder roast evenly without more energy. However, the batch size and heat retention of the Diedrich, as well as the consistency in sorting meant this wasn’t an issue for me on this roast at all.
A high density, lower moisture bean such of this feels as though it may fight you for control in the roaster. A way to deal with this is to start with a higher charge temperature to drive off moisture faster and step down off of the gas before/during the Maillard stage/Stage 2. This will enable you to control the roast, allowing the sugars to brown at a slow enough rate to take advantage of this extremely sweet coffee. If I were to roast this coffee again, I would do exactly the same as you see here, but instead of starting with a low gas heat soak, I would charge straight into the roast at full gas, and step down at the advent of Stage 2 and not before.
Having that amount of heat build-up within the bean, didn’t give me the space I wanted to extend Stage 2, and because of this, I found myself employing my U-bend approach to first crack, which was to dip off of the gas completely, allowing the energy released by the bean to explode into a drum with the capacity to absorb that heat without letting the coffee race up in temperature too quickly. I was less successful in disrupting the falling Rate of Change than I wanted, as I didn’t dip as long as I should have. You’d think the coffee would have suffered for all of my ‘next time’ moments. Of course, I was wrong – I’ve cupped this coffee, and had this same roast as an espresso shot (or three) and as a batch brew. My word, it has something for everyone! The cupping showed off this coffee in all facets of it’s glory; rich in sweetness, coming from coconut sugar and caramel, red and orange fruit notes – specifically plum, preserved apricot and a hint of sweet/tart cranberry. A soft Meyer lemon and sweet lime acidity gently cuts through the sweetness and the silky, smooth and round body ties everything up with a sublime bow.
Quest M3s Analysis by Evan Gilman
Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Quest roasts. Generally, I’ll allow the machine to warm up for 15 minutes until my environmental temperature reading is at least 250F, weigh out 150g batch size, and begin roasting when I’ve reached my desired charge temperature. Read my initial post here and my updated post here.
That a fine coffee like this from Rwanda is what I have come to expect is both a testament to the amazing work going on in this country, as well as a pretty good indicator of how spoiled I am. Chris has been working with Kivubelt for a number of years, and they have brought splendid coffees like this one with consistency.
Approaching this dense, well sorted, and well polished coffee I knew I was in for a treat. There’s middling moisture content and water activity here, and a small but significant range of screen sizes. Less moisture content means avoiding strong heat application, but disparate screen sizes and high density means more energy will be needed to pull this coffee through to the finish line – think of those last two factors as drag on the speed of your roast.
My approach was to start with a higher charge temperature of 395F, and to ease off the heat a little earlier in the roast to really draw out Maillard and complete the roast at a lower temperature than usual. After charging my 150g of coffee, I kept heat at 10A and fan at full speed. At turning point, I cut the fan so the coffee could soak up the heat in the machine more effectively. At 2:45 / 275F I reduced heat application, and introduced fan speed to 3 a bit later at 3:26 / 300F. At this point, I could start to see the rate of rise dropping, and I knew I’d have plenty of time in Maillard. At 5:10 / 350F I turned down the burner even further to 5A, and maxed out the fan shortly afterwards at 5:40 / 360F. Rate of rise was really dwindling at this point, but at 6:45 / 380F, just before first crack, I cut heat application entirely and allowed the coffee to coast into first crack with only its residual heat.
The result was a sub-400F finishing temperature, with about 46% of the roast spent in Maillard, and a long post-crack development time of 1:27. In the cup, this was a syrupy sweet coffee that held on to a lemon-lime zip; simultaneously sweet and refreshing. The aftertaste tended to linger with coconut jam and pandan leaf roundness, as well as a ripe pear or brown sugar note. Backing all this up was a tart raisin fruitiness that I usually find in Rwandan coffees, there to remind me of the origin.
This was only one roast of what is clearly a versatile coffee. I could see this coffee being used as a filter drip (especially for this roast), but also as an espresso, full immersion, or flash-brewed iced coffee. The brown sugar and spice notes here would positively vibrate when paired with some seasonal drinks like a spiced cider, mulled wine, or hot buttered rum (why not).
Brew Analysis by Nate Lumpkin
Right before diving into pour over analysis on this coffee I had the chance to taste a shot pulled by our Tasting Room Manager Elise Becker, which was as bright and vivid as I had hoped for, with notes of cherry, mandarin, and nectarine, with a long dark chocolate finish. In addition, I had tasted my Ikawa roasts a few days earlier, which were just as pleasant. As a result I was very excited to try this coffee on a couple different pour-over devices.
Intuition drew me to the C70 pour-over. I had a feeling that the deeper brew bed and double filter would give this coffee an extra zip and cleanliness, and wanted to test my hypothesis. As usual, I used P70 filters and our Stagg Kettles to heat the water to a precise 205F. This brew took 3 minutes 15 seconds to finish, with a TDS of 1.33 and an extraction of 19.5%: right on target. It had a delicious and sweet wine-like aroma, and in the cup I tasted notes of golden raisin, plum, cherry, and tangerine, with a sweet, clean finish. Others tasted dried cherry, honeycomb, fig butter, red delicious apple, and dark chocolate. I loved this cup.
I often like to pair cone brew devices with the Fellow Stagg, since its unique shape and design often drives up extraction and brings out qualities that otherwise don’t show up in coffees. In this case, it brewed through a little faster, at 2:38, but with a much higher TDS and extraction, at 1.51 and 22% respectively. In the cup it had a spiced wine and caramel aroma, with notes of watermelon, grapefruit, blood orange, grilled pineapple, maple syrup, and baker’s chocolate. It had a slight astringent quality as well, like toasted walnut. I liked this coffee but preferred the C70 for its cleanliness and lower astringency. If I was going to try to refine this cup, I might attempt a lower dose or coarser grind, to try to pull back its extraction just a little bit. Otherwise, I would recommend this style of pour-over for more of those spiced and caramelized notes, whereas the C70 seemed to highlight the bright citruses.