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The shores of Lake Kivu on the western border of Rwanda comprise some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Islands in the lake rise up dramatically through misty mornings, and the gentle waves, navigated by canoes and steam boats, 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.
Not long ago, Furaha Umwizye returned to her home country of Rwanda after earning a Masters of Economics in Switzerland. She established Kivubelt Coffee in 2008, which includes both an estate coffee grove and washing stations that work closely with local smallholder coffee producers. This particular lot is from the washing station known as Murundo, located in Mahembe town in the Nyamasheke district, which works with a little over 600 local producers, not just to accept delivery of cherry but in training for good cultivation and harvest practices as well.
The triple washing practice involves a pre-fermentation water flotation to sort underripe or damaged cherries out. Pulping and fermentation are followed by the second wash, which separates the coffee by density again. Finally, the coffee is soaked in clean water overnight prior to moving to raised bed drying tables where it will be closely attended by wet mill employees who turn the drying parchment coffee with regularity and are ready at a moment’s notice to cover the fragile beans with waterproof tarps in case of a sudden seasonal rainshower.
Last year, Kivu belt provided health care assistance for the most vulnerable families in the local community, and regularly makes second payments for quality premiums to the farmers after the coffee is sold and exported. The company owns and operates its own dry mills as well, a huge advantage in maintaining traceability and export efficiency.
Royal is pleased to welcome Furaha and Kivubelt to the family this season, rounding our Rwanda offerings out with a lovely Western selection that bursts with ripe apple flavors and offering layered sweetness that reminds us of caramel, honey, marmalade, and tamarind. We’re thrilled to offer it both as a 10kg Crown Jewel and as full sized 60kg bags.
Most Rwandan specialty coffee exports at 15+, and while this lot is no exception to that rule of thumb, it is unique in that the majority of its size is relatively large, between the 16-18 screens. It’s accompanied by a very high density and moderate to slightly-low moisture figures. It should hold well in stable storage conditions.
Local varieties are usually part of the Bourbon group, and include regionally popular Jackson and Mbirizi, which were among the older trees distributed in the 1950s. The threat of potato may still scare some roasters, but Furaha’s washing stations are rigorous in cherry selection, flotation, and parchment sorting, and we’re fortunate to have secured especially clean coffees as a result. If you’d like to read a little more about the defect, including suggestions for talking points and service, take a peek at this article we ran last year.
This week at the crown we have been roasting a lot with our new team members to see how heat adjustments will influence the flavor in the cup. Our first roast, we started with high heat at 3 gas and we even turned it up a notch just after yellowing to 3.25 gas. As we sped along to first crack at a high rate of change of 14.4F/30 seconds, we decided to hit the brakes hard just after first crack and cranked the heat down to 2.5 gas. We finished the roast with 58 seconds of post crack development time at 407F.
Our second roast, we were much more cautious with the heat and started the roast at 2 gas and kicked it up to 2.5 gas after yellowing. Learning that this was not enough heat we again increased the heat to 2.75 and then finally to 3 gas reaching first crack almost two minutes later than we did in Roast one. For fear of stalling, with a rate of change already at 5.9F/30 seconds we kept the heat up until the end of the roast with 1:25 of post crack development time.
On the cupping table Roast one was vibrant with lots of fruit flavors like cherry and apricot that we expect to taste in a delicious coffee from Rwanda. The sweetness was balanced yet light with notes of chocolate and vanilla. Roast two had a mild acidity with a tart and floral cranberry-esque note and the sweetness was like a decadent dark chocolate fudge brownie with a sweet lingering finish. Both roasts were medium to heavy bodied and so sweet.
I had the great fortune of visiting Rwanda, and being able to roast this coffee after seeing the country added depth to the experience. While I didn’t visit the Murundo Mill in specific, we were able to see some of Nyamasheke and the surrounding countryside, and in fact had a flat tire very near this area. So we did get to meet a few of the local folks while getting out the spare and tightening lugnuts.
This coffee definitely showed its inner complexity on the Behmor. I wanted to approach this coffee with a little bit more heat, but minimize any smoky flavors that may be prone to intrude in the process of roasting. I used 100% power until first crack, then adjusted to 75% (P4) just a little past first crack. To attenuate the heat and let a little smoke out of the roasting chamber, I opened the door for 5 seconds at both 11:15 and 11:40 – just before the end of the roast at 12:00.
The result on the cupping table was a more pronounced stonefruit flavor in the coffee, with two people independently noting apricot. Other standout notes were Meyer lemon, pear, and rooibos tea. This coffee brings such a unique character, yet one that is truly exemplary of its origin. Through our many cuppings, we have yet to encounter a potato; the quality control measures being put to work in this area of the world are really working. Buy with confidence!
Our baristas have had an exciting couple weeks here at the Crown, learning tons about all things coffee: roasting, green analysis, cupping, and palate development have largely filled our days. After so much new information, I think it might have been a relief for them to come back to something familiar: brewing.
Elise took the lead dialing in this coffee. Looking at our cupping notes across a few roasts, we found that the first Probatino roast seemed to offer stone fruit sweetness and perhaps more complexity. Based on those cupping tables, it seemed that the coffee might enjoy aggressive extraction. Elise pulled out the ceramic Phoenix 70 from Saint Anthony Industries first; with its narrower angle and deeper brew bed, it can yield higher extractions. Using the same recipe with different pour techniques (in one Elise poured more aggressively than the other) we found that in a pour over device this Murundo Mill coffee actually tasted better with a slightly shorter brew time and lower extraction percentage. Our preferred recipe featured flavors of orange and tangerine, apple, cranberry, peach and pear juice, vanilla, florals, and honey.
Curious about the December Dripper and its multiple apertures, Elise brewed up this triple-washed Rwanda once more. This dial, despite its surprisingly long brew time, yielded an incredibly clean and sweet cup, full of cranberry, pear, white grape, lemon acidity, vanilla, mild cedar, and cocoa.
This coffee surprises with it’s super clean and crisp fruit sweetness, balanced by delicate caramelized sugars in the realm of vanilla and light caramel. I have a hunch it would create a spectacular espresso, and these recipes show that it makes an easy drinking and delicious pour over.