Rwandans love their beer, and while they have been widely growing coffee for years, it was mainly for export. But that trend could soon change. A walk in Kigali’s middle-class neighbourhoods and one will hardly miss seeing a coffee bar or two, but this was not the case a decade ago. There has been an undeniably obvious increase of coffee bars in Kigali, with many Rwandans also adopting its culture, with some embracing it in their adulthood. Herve Gatabazi prepares coffee for a customer at KG Craft Café. This was the case for Herve Gatabazi, a 26-year-old barista in one of Kigali’s finest coffee shops, KG Craft Café. He had his first sip four years ago when he underwent a coffee-making training so he could make a living as a barista. “I never used to drink coffee, but now, I take like three cups every day,” Gatabazi said. He is always at the shop by 6:30 in the morning to set up the coffee machine and help with the cleaning. But every day starts with a cup of espresso, he told The New Times. Gatabazi ventured into coffee making to make ends meet, little did he know he would fall in love with the beautiful vocation, he said. “I can now support my family financially. I am an independent person who can buy myself what I need,” he said. This is because the coffee culture in Rwanda has been on the rise, and customers at KG Craft Café have their eyes, always, on Gatabazi whose skill brings them there. He added that coffee is the most ordered for drink at the café, despite the fact that they serve a wide range of drinks that include tea, fresh juices and beer. “We can serve between 50 to 100 litres of coffee per day,” Gatabazi said. A cup of coffee served to a client at one of Kigali’s finest coffee shops, KG Craft Café. To say that the coffee culture in Rwanda is new would not be a lie. Some of us have had our first sip of coffee in adulthood like Gatabazi, and we cannot handle some strong brews that coffee lovers usually fancy. Most times we go for a latte or cappuccino. In fact, we grew up being told coffee causes heart diseases and insomnia, hence the reason its consumption has been frowned upon in the past. Its low consumption in the past was also because German missionaries, who introduced the crop in 1904 in Mibirizi sector, Rusizi district, officially strictly limited its consumption to themselves. “Since then, coffee was meant for white people and not Rwandans, until later in the 1950s,” Pie Ntwari, the in-charge of communications at the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), told The New Times. Before the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, some quantities of coffee were being consumed locally, but not as much as other crops Rwandans were growing as well. In 1975, an average Rwandan consumed 0.010 kg of coffee, but this has improved overtime, with consumption per capita at 0.790 kg in 2018. Despite the fact that coffee and tea are the country’s major exports, Rwanda only consumes 3 percent of its coffee and exports the rest! This is contrary to the last decade where 0.5 percent was consumed. Non-verified reports even say Rwandans hated coffee and instead loved tea, although both were the country’s main exports. This is backed by a 2018 report by the FAO that portrayed Rwanda as a rapid consumer of tea. “While global tea consumption is dominated by large markets, such as China and India, which account respectively for a share of 38.6 percent and 19.0 percent, there are some small but rapidly growing markets that have expanded well above the worlds average annual growth rate of 4.5 percent over the last decade,” the report reads. It goes on to show that Rwanda’s consumption rate growth was at 26.8 percent in a decade. That majorly doesn’t raise questions, because generally, Rwandans have tea for breakfast and sometimes in the evening too. But why would a country like Rwanda whose coffee is ranked among the best globally not consume its own produce? Ntwari said that in 2000, Rwanda had only two coffee washing stations and one dry mill, which perhaps explains further how Rwandans would export coffee and have to import it again after being processed, if they had to consume it. But in 2007, Rwanda had what is believed to be the very first coffeehouse chain restaurant; Bourbon coffee shop. Two years later, Alice and her husband Jean-Philippe flew in for the first time to visit Rwanda. Alice described to The New Times how at that time, Bourbon coffee shop was the only go-to place for coffee. Although there could have been other places that served coffee, it was the only known brand. Alice’s husband is Rwandan, but he had never set foot in Rwanda before. Coming to the country, the initial plan was to stay for three years for a job opportunity he had got. “When we got here, we knew we would want to stay for longer. That is when we thought of how to make that easier for us,” Alice said. The couple, who had come from Belgium, where they were both born and raised, came up with an idea to start a bakery. In 2013, they started a pilot phase of Brioche, which was a success, and in 2014, they opened two more dine-ins, adding coffee to the menu this time. “We received positive feedback from our customers, and in 2015 we opened up a factory in the Special Economic Zone that would be our central kitchen. This was because we wanted all our customers to have similar experiences at either one of our branches,” Alice added. A barista makes coffee for a customer at Brioche Gisimenti. In 2018, Brioche opened two other branches in Kenya, where they would export their products, all made in Rwanda. This happened together with opening up a couple others in Kigali too. But Covid-19 hit and it was hard to maintain branches in Kenya, so they were closed. “We however, got an opportunity to sign with Rubis petrol stations in Kenya and Rwanda to have bakery corners where we sell our coffee and pastries,” she added. They now have seven shops in Kenya and eight in Rwanda. Alice is one of the people who have seen the coffee culture grow in Rwanda and beyond. “More people are drinking coffee, and I hope more will come, especially because the coffee is good. We now have multiple options for coffee lovers,” Alice noted. Brioche, which is known for their excellent tasting croissants and pain-au-chocolat, has also created more than 100 jobs directly, but they have also played a role in the export of Rwanda’s processed coffee. The coffee culture grows hand in hand with the welfare of its farmers. Now, Rwanda has more than 300 coffee washing stations and almost 20 dry mills. It is produced by more than 400,000 smallholder farmers, covering an area of 39,844 hectares. Total production ranges between 20,000MT to 24,000MT per year, 98 percent being Arabica.