From farm to cup: The art of coffee making

To most people, coffee means the leafy Arabica trees growing on Rwanda’s thousand hills or the almost delicious specialty coffee that we mix with milk and water to make a coffee drink. Well, this is not what coffee is all about. There is a precise and intricate technique to pulling off the final coffee taste.
A Rwandan woman at one of the 120 coffee washing stations in the country.
A Rwandan woman at one of the 120 coffee washing stations in the country.

To most people, coffee means the leafy Arabica trees growing on Rwanda’s thousand hills or the almost delicious specialty coffee that we mix with milk and water to make a coffee drink. Well, this is not what coffee is all about. There is a precise and intricate technique to pulling off the final coffee taste.

If you are not a regular patron of serious coffee houses like Bourbon Coffee, talks about Cappuccino, Espresso and Macchiato might seem like names of some Italian mafia brotherhood.

Bosco Kayitana, the Head Barista for Bourbon Coffee said that the pure of glorification coffee comes after an intricate journey of delicate detours from farm to cup.

Kayitana was also the second best barista (a person who serves coffee in a coffee house), at the Rwanda Barista Championship during the East Africana Fine Coffee Association Conference, that took place on February 12th – 16th, 2009.

For all coffee lovers, it would be a privilege to physically go through the sacred art of making coffee, however since we all cannot, a mental journey would just be fine.

Kayitana the Barista leads us step by step through the process of coffee glorification- harvesting, washing, roasting, cupping and brewing.

“Right from the harvesting of red ripe cherries up to the final presentation of the coffee drink, coffee is meticulously handled to produce a fresh, aromatic and specially flavored beverage,” Kayitana said.

He further explained that the harvested red cherries are soaked in water for twenty four hours at the various Coffee Washing Stations. This ensures that the mucilage (outer sticky substance on coffee cherries) is slowly and carefully washed off the beans until clean green coffee beans result. Thereafter, the green coffee beans are dried in preparation for the roasting process.

“The degree of coffee roasting is very important because this is what determines the final coffee product,” he said.

After roasting, a semi-medium roast will produces coffee that is fit for cupping. The medium to darker roasts, result in espresso while the finely ground very dark roast known as the ‘French Roast’ yields a bitter drink due to the high acidic levels.

This coffee is famous among the French hence the name. The process of Coffee Cupping or Coffee Tasting is the practice of observing the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee.

“During cupping process, the different coffee flavors and aromas are still fully expressed,” Kayitana said, adding that, “…some coffees will smell like flowers, chocolate or even potatoes and dust.” In other words, this simply emphasises that the whole production process will affect the cupping quality of coffee.

Joe Palozzi of Java Joe’s Micro-Roasted Premium Coffees is an experienced master roaster, who said that Espresso roasts are darker due to the reduced acidity levels  hence the resultant and better-concentrated coffee cup.

“The dark roast also produces a very fine grind that ensures that during the brewing process, all caffeine in the coffee particles is washed off to make a very strong coffee drink,” Palozzi explained.

The Coffee brewing process takes on several ways. These according to Palozzi can be the ordinary way of adding hot water and milk to coffee or by using coffee brewing machines or coffee makers.

In preparation for April’s World Barista Championships in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, Bourbon Coffee’s Kayitana braces himself to meet with the world’s best barista’s.

He credits his experience and success to the continued support and trainings from some of the world renowned coffee houses like Dorman’s and Starbucks as well as trainers from Canada.

Today, Kayitana assures that without support from Rwanda’s government, Rwandan coffee would not have emerged as the best in the region and as one of the world’s best. He recalls how far Rwanda’s coffee industry has come.

“In 1994, we had only 12 washing stations but today we have about 120 stations spread all over the country,” he said.
However, Kayitana laments about the poor coffee drinking culture among Rwandans in general.

“Rwanda is excellent at producing and marketing high quality coffee, but Rwandans have negated the basic idea of consuming their own coffee,” he said.

Rwanda to producing the world’s best coffee is a big achievement. However, without Rwanda’s very own savouring, tasting and enjoying this popular beverage, the coffee glorification process is not complete.

Rwandans need to go out and drink their own coffee from their own thousand hills.

Contact: kelviod@yahoo.com.

 

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