Rwanda Cup of Excellence® Competition - Part 2

We are mid-way through the Cup of Excellence competition here in Rwanda, and I wanted to take an opportunity to share some details of the event.

First, we are staying in a small lodge compound in Rwamanaga, a small, dusty town near the eastern edge of Rwanda. This is the biggest town in the area, but is still a pretty small place. My bungalow has a small florescent light hanging from the ceiling, a couple pieces of furniture, and a bed that is so small that I have to sleep diagonally in it to fit. I’m getting used to taking fast showers, as there is only cold running water. The “shower” is a tap with a spray head, over a basin set into the floor. No shower curtain, so by the time I’m done cleaning up there’s basically water all over everything.

The lodge has a small restaurant with a lovely outdoor seating area. Every meal here seems to be about the same – a wide selection of starches (boiled rice, plantains, spaghetti noodles, French fries, or yams), meat (stewed chicken, beef, or goat), green beans and carrots, and mushroom soup. In the morning, breakfast is fried eggs, toast, margarine, and coffee.

We are right adjacent to the main highway, but because there isn’t a lot of traffic, it isn’t too noisy. But in the early hours of the morning (right now, it’s about 5:00 am – the only time I can find to write) there’s a lot of things going on that can keep a person from staying asleep. First, the mullah from a mosque in the neighborhood wakens us with calls to prayer at 4:30, 4:45, and again for the sleepyheads at 5:00 am. It’s actually beautiful chanting, deep and resonating, but I think I could appreciate it more if it weren’t so early. All of the farm animals appreciate the wake-up call, as the roosters, cows, goats, and birds – all sounding like they are right outside my window – start their day bright and early.

Next, I want to tell you a little about the competition. There are about 20 of us cuppers judging the competition. We started the week off with about 50 coffees from the different regions of Rwanda, which had been pre-selected by a jury of national cuppers. We have finished two days of cupping, and have narrowed the field to the top 20 coffees which we will be re-cupping today to select the top 10 coffees which will be the most sought after in the world-wide auction. So it’s going to be an intensive day for us today, as our group’s decisions will have a profound outcome financially for the winning farmers. In a country like Rwanda, the windfall money can be literally life-changing for some of these hard-working farmers.

I’ve enjoyed the cupping venue, which is in a brand-new coffee training and quality station just completed, located about 20 minutes from our lodge. The cupping room is pretty small for us, but we have 2 to 3 times as many people using it for this competition as it will normally ever have. It’s solid and well-built, and will serve the coffee growers here in the Eastern Province well for many years after we leave.

I’ve enjoyed seeing a lot of other cuppers that I know, and getting a chance to meet many new ones from all over the world. The Cup of Excellence competition series is the only event in the world that brings so many coffee experts together for such an extensive cupping experience. It’s truly a family.

I’m posting a few pictures I’ve taken on this trip – hopefully they will make it, as the Internet connection here at the lodge is as thin as a thread. I’ve only been able to get on-line twice since I got here. The Internet may not end in Rwamanaga, but I think you can see it from here!

I’ll add more to this series about the Rwanda experience as I’m able to, even if it’s from Portland after I get back.

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