Wednesday, October 21, 2009

That Ain't No Starbucks

Mention the country of Rwanda, and most anyone who hears it will immediately think of the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were killed.

As the Rwandan people have restored peace and civility in their land, they are banking on coffee to bring in much-needed revenue and a stable prosperity. Most coffee in the East African nation is grown and harvested by families or small cooperatives.

Today's Washington Post reports on Bourbon, a newly opened coffee shop in downtown D.C. -- the first U.S. outlet of a Rwandan coffee chain.
"If done right, it could be the platform to re-brand the country," says (Bourbon owner Arthur) Karuletwa, former chief executive and now a shareholder in the company. Coffee can "create awareness that there's recovery, there's trade, there's investment opportunities, there's tourism. There's life after death."

After opening three stores in Kigali, Rwanda, over the past three years, Bourbon expanded operations to Washington in July, taking over a converted Starbucks at 21st and L streets NW. The cafe is furnished with dark wood tables and red-leather-upholstered chairs; the walls are painted gold, moss green and burnt orange; woven baskets and traditional African motifs decorate the shelves and walls.

... Plans call for Bourbon to open a cafe in Boston at the end of the year, and later a New York location. Unlike the D.C. shop, those stores will offer on-site roasting and daily cuppings.

... "Rwanda is a very wanted origin," says Susie Spindler, executive director of the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, which runs the Cup of Excellence competition. She says coffee traders and roasters visiting Rwanda are discovering unusual flavor profiles they never knew existed.

"It mixes a lot of regular characteristics that you usually only find in one area," agrees Stacey Manley, Bourbon's barista. "Latin American coffees tend to be lighter-bodied and kind of nutty with cocoa. But you almost never find an earthy, really heavy-bodied Latin American coffee. Those are typically Indonesian characteristics. And in Indonesia, coffee is very rarely bright. So the weird thing about Rwandan coffee is it'll have all these different characteristics in one coffee."

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