Growing up in the small (roughly the size of Vermont) central African country of Rwanda, I knew that coffee and tea were important crops. They are still our two largest exports but now we’re known for other things as well, such as Mountain Gorillas.
Though close to the equator, Rwanda is known as the “land of a thousand hills”. Its Arabica coffee is grown at high elevations and is considered among the best in the world. But unlike many countries where coffee production is done on a very large scale by big landowners and co-ops, Rwanda’s coffee is grown primarily by small independent farmers.
And EVERY step, except the husking of the ripe coffee “cherries”, is done by hand.
From planting the trees, mulching the soil with leaves, picking the cherries, transporting them to the washing stations, hulling the beans, drying the beans, removing the last layer of chaff, performing the three tedious final sorting/grading stages, printing the sacks, and loading the 200 lb sacks into container trucks for the three day drive to the Tanzanian port — is all done by farm workers earning 1000 RWD or about $1.10 per day.
When I arrived in America (in 2010), my apartment happened to be above a coffee shop. I noticed people paying $3 or $4 for one cup of coffee, sometimes two or three times a day. I thought back to my home country where $4 a day could easily feed an entire family. As I explored the coffee industry more closely I realized that practically none of the coffee being sold in the US was from Rwanda.
That was the moment when I made my decision to try to help those farmers in Rwanda by creating a deeper connection between coffee lovers in my brand new country and their cup of coffee!