Monday, November 21, 2011

Coffee from the shores of Lake Kivu, Rwanda

When I was recently in Rwanda, I paid a visit to the Simba Supermarket in Kigali city centre (just north of the main Kigali roundabout) that purveyor of fine local foods and produce, to pick up my usual stash of Rwandan leaf tea and, of course, a large supply of Akabanga chilli oil for friends and family.  Many expats prefer 24 hour Kenyan supermarket chain Nakumatt just down the road, because of its "Western" style bright lighting, shiny floors and displays, but I can't go past Simba, which is more down to earth and keeps it real.

As I wandered through the aisles, I spotted this extremely rare thing by African supermarket standards - a bag of whole coffee beans!  Almost all bags of coffee I've seen in African supermarkets are pre-ground, which is great if you have a plunger or percolator, but disappointing if you have your own grinder and quality coffee machine, be it a manual or automatic model.  So I decided to take a chance, for the princely sum of around RWF 3,000 (around AUD 5), even though the packet didn't tell you when it had been roasted - just a use-by date of Aug 2012.

What also got me was that this coffee was harvested, roasted and packaged by COOPAC, a Rwandan collective of over 2,000 individual small farms in the mountainous regions overlooking the shores of Lake Kivu (which also happens to be near where the famous silverback gorillas live, in the Volcanoes National Park)!

Are you lookin' at me?!!
Well, I'm finally back home and have had the chance to check it out.  Put simply, this coffee is amazing.  It was probably roasted as early as 3 months ago in August, but might as well have been roasted the week before I picked it up off the supermarket shelf.

The liquor that poured out of the group handle's twin fonts was thick, incredibly dark, and slow running.  Because I use a 14g double basket, it took me 3 tries to get it right.  The first two times, I either put in too much coffee or tamped it too hard, and only got a slow drip, albeit after the requisite 5-6 seconds.  On the third try, I stopped the coffee level just a smidge below the lip, and only tamped it gently, relying mostly on the weight of my solid steel Rancilio tamper to tamp it down.  I only pulled it for 20 seconds instead of the more conventional 25 seconds, because I like a fresher taste.

As you can see, it still looks fresh and bubbly in the cup, with a rich, thick, dark crema.  Here's what I got:

  • First sniff - hints of licorice in the nose.
  • First sip - a complex blend of layers.  Big citrus notes, dark chocolate (but not bitter), with a hint of something that was really hard to pick - probably closer to cardamon than licorice?
  • With the rest of the drink, more fresh citrus, backed up by a deep choco-coffee flavour and nose.
  • And wow - this flavour has some length.  I'm still tasting choc-coffee as I write this review, 5-6 minutes after I've finished the cup.

And there you have it - next time you're in a supermarket in Rwanda, and see a bag of coffee beans on the shelf, buy it!

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