The “Coffee Doctors”: The Language of Taste and the Rise of Rwanda's Specialty Bean Value
With ideal climatic and topographic conditions for growing the heirloom “Bourbon” varietal of Coffea arabica, Rwanda is naturally well positioned to produce high-quality coffee. Rwandan coffee does indeed have many environmental factors working in its favor, yet those alone fail to explain why, after a century of production, the Rwandan brew suddenly “tastes better.”1 While coffee exported from Rwanda was once marked only by a crude letter grade indicating size and degree of visible defects, an increasing volume of coffee is now leaving the country distinguished by point of origin or purported taste. Those familiar with Rwandan coffee at both the origin and consumption ends of this complex and global foodway also claim that these beans are in fact of higher “quality” than ever before, with distinctive flavors for which coffee drinkers are willing to pay more, thus increasing
potential profits for Rwandan coffee growers. As a result, Rwandan coffee catapulted from being virtually unknown within the “specialty” sector of the global coffee industry to attracting attention and praise from high-end United States, European, and Japanese coffee companies within the first decade of the twenty-first century.