Rwanda’s Maraba Bourbon coffee is one of the country’s success stories. Beans being grown at Maraba, near Huye, have excelled in international taste tests – in a US study they were classed as second best worldwide – and are being marketed actively in the UK and US. Maraba is a very special type of Arabica coffee from Bourbon coffee trees, characterised by a smooth, fullbodied flavour with no astringency or after-taste.
The coffee plantation is run by the Abahuzamugambi Co-operative, set up in 2001, many of whose members are women widowed in the genocide who were struggling to support their families. The income from the Maraba coffee hasenabled them to pay school fees, improve their homes and acquire livestock. In 2005 the Co-operative won the prestigious City of Göteborg International Environmental Prize. International support from USAID, ACDI/VOCA, PEARL, the UK’s Comic Relief, Union Coffee Roasters of London and others provided for new washing stations and improved equipment, and the area has acquired a new clinic, bank and market as well as schools and other ancillary shops and services. From an initial 200 members in 2001 there are now around 1,200; including their families and children, up to 6,000 people are directly or indirectly benefiting. In the UK, Sainsbury’s has promoted Maraba coffee during Comic Relief campaigns and has also sold a speciality beer containing it. In the US, Maraba Bourbon is available from Starbucks as well as from speciality stores. Among other online sources, in the UK it’s available from Union Coffee Roasters, where its flavour is described somewhat fancifully as ‘red apple, white grape, candied orange & complex floral aromatics finishing with silky milk chocolate’.
Traditionally, Arabica coffee had always been Rwanda’s principal export, but quality and quantity declined seriously after the genocide when production fell to about half its previous level. Now it’s back on an upward curve, and other plantations around Rwanda are achieving similar success with different brands. The country as a whole has over 8 million coffee trees on some 33,000 hectares of land; other good coffee growing areas are Akagera, Virunga, and around lakes Kivu and Muhazi. Another brand doing very well on the international market is Rwanda Blue Bourbon from the Kivu area, also used by Starbucks and drunk as far afield as Japan.
You’ll find Maraba Bourbon in Rwanda’s restaurants, hotels and supermarkets, along with other Rwandan coffees and tea, and at prices far lower than in international stores. Watch out for it – whether in the UK, the US or Rwanda – and enjoy!