Rwanda Cup of Excellence® Competition - Part 3

After a 30 hour trip returning from Kigali to Portland, and a couple of days to get rested up and cleaned up, I’m back in my office at CBI and reflecting upon the Cup of Excellence competition last week in Africa.

First, I have to say how impressed I was with how well the competition was organized and went off. I have enough experience in organizing events to know just what a feat it was to pull this all together. Special kudos go to Lori Rice from TechnoServe, Paul Songer from Songer and Associates, and Susie Spindler from the Alliance for Coffee Excellence (the group that runs the Cup of Excellence program). The event was held in a brand-new cupping and coffee quality facility built just outside of Kayonza in Rwanda’s Eastern Province. The facility was significantly behind schedule in being built, and even with pushing by the event’s organizers the local contractor barely had it completed in time (the paint still smelled wet the day we arrived). Despite these challenges, the local Rwandan coffee crew and auditors did an outstanding job in preparing the coffees for the international jury, and in managing the roasting, weighing, grinding, boiling, and clean-up.

From the group of 50 or so coffees that we started the week with, we wound up narrowing the group down to the top 22 coffees. All of these scored an 84 or higher, and are on their way to the green auction in October. We scored two of these coffees at 90 or higher, thus earning them the top positions in the auction and a special commendation as “Presidential” winners! Friday morning we re-cupped the top ten coffees, and it was a phenomenal table to experience. The amazing thing about Rwandan coffees – when they are great – is that they combine the full body and excellent mouth-feel of a fine washed Sumatran coffee with the citric acidity and aroma of a fine Guatemalan coffee. Plus, there are intriguing spice notes (cinnamon, mace, or allspice) combined with tropical fruits flavors (mango or even banana) with either milk or dark chocolate. Amazing!

The lodge where we stayed in Rwamanaga was certainly the best accommodations for a relatively large group like ours in the Eastern Province, but was still a bit of a challenge. Sometimes we had running water, and sometimes we didn’t. And when there was water, it was usually cold – made for some pretty brisk and quick showers in the mornings, accompanied by a fair amount of cussing and gasping for air. The power stayed on for most of our visit, which was nice. But the Internet connection was a problem, for those of us that needed to stay in touch with our offices in Germany, Norway, Iceland, Japan, America, and so forth. There was one table in the corner of the restaurant’s veranda that seemed to have the best signal, so there was almost always a group huddled around the table with our laptops open and a cold Mutzig-brand beer in front of us.

We only had one opportunity for a “field trip” related to coffee. There was an opportunity to visit a “washing station” (aka: a “wet mill” in most of the rest of the coffee world) in the hills to the southwest of Rwamanaga. We were assured that it was about a 45 minute drive, and we would be back before dark. As it turned out, it was a two hour drive over some of the dustiest roads I’ve been on in a long time. When we finally got there, it was almost dusk and rapidly became difficult to see anything (we knew the station was done for the season, so didn’t really expect to see any fruit being processed or coffees drying on their multitude of raised “Africa Beds”, but still would have been great to be able to tour around a little more had we the benefit of more daylight). Another long drive back, and then a futile shower to try and wash the red dust out of our hair and off our skin. Didn’t really get it all off until I got home on Sunday, and could actually benefit from a long, hot shower with water safe to get into my ears, mouth, and eyes.

As the only cupper from the Pacific Northwest to have been invited to take part in this Cup of Excellence, sharing pictures and stories about the trip and the competition with the rest of the team here at CBI – and soon with many of our prospects and larger accounts - is very rewarding, as I was there proudly representing our entire company and all of its customers. Can’t wait to go and contribute my time and skills to another great competition next year!

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