Ongolo Proud African

Kawah coffee and the growing popularity of Rwandan coffee

4 February 2021

Coffee is one of the most traded commodities after crude oil and precious metals such as steel, copper, iron ore, gold and silver. Africa produces some of the finest Arabica and Robusta coffee in the world and the top five producers are Ethiopia (6th in the world), Uganda (10th), Cote d’Ivoire (15th), Tanzania (17th) and Kenya (21st). Missing from the top 25 list is Rwanda, which Roasty Coffee calls “the world’s most under-appreciated coffee!”

Rwandan coffee beans
Rwandan coffee beans

Coffee accounts for 41% of Rwanda’s exports and the top destinations of the coffee are the United States, Switzerland, the UK, Belgium and Singapore. The high quality Rwandan coffee, renowned for its depth and layers of complexity, has won the Best of the Best (2018) and Coffee Lover’s Choice (2018 & 2019) awards at the Ernesto Illy International Coffee Awards.

Kawah Coffee launches in Singapore

The global coffee industry will be worth a staggering $134bn in 2024. Coffee producers in Africa are shifting away from just supplying beans to household Western names to establishing their own brands in order to get a bigger share of the pie.

Kawah coffee
The Kawah coffee logo celebrates the African women who grow the beans

Kawah is a Rwandan-brand of speciality grade Arabica coffee that was launched in Singapore in 2020. The brand name was inspired by the word ‘coffee’ in four different languages:

  • Kinyarwanda (the national language of Rwanda): Ikawa
  • Swahili: Kahawa
  • Arabic: Kahouh
  • French slang: Kawa

Kawah coffee is grown on the shores of Lake Kivu, located 165km west of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. Lake Kivu is one of the main coffee growing areas in Rwanda thanks to its high altitude (over 1,700ft above sea level) and rich soil, which are the ideal conditions for growing premium coffee. The green coffee beans are imported from Rwanda and roasted every week in Singapore to ensure their freshness.

Boneza coffee farm
The Boneza coffee farm on the shore of Lake Kivu

Kawah sells dark and medium coffee in four different options: roasted beans, powder, biodegradable capsules and single drip bags. The company also offers customised grinding to accommodate different brewing techniques. Kawah coffee is available at retail outlets in Singapore (The Green Collective at Funan Mall and the Crane social space), Lazada and on their website, which has an automatic subscription option allowing customers to choose the frequency and type of future coffee orders.

Kawah Coffee Founder: Michaelle Kubwimana

Kawah coffee was founded by Rwandese national, Michaelle Kubwimana, who moved to Singapore in August 2019 with her husband and two daughters. Michaelle comes from an entrepreneurial family that has been in the coffee business in Rwanda for over 20 years.

The Kubwimana family spent several decades in exile – all four children were born in different parts of the world - and returned home after the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda ended in 1994. The family patriarch went back to his ancestral home in Boneza, which is on the shores of Lake Kivu, with a view to developing the region and support the efforts to rebuild the country.

The coffee industry was already established but the quality was nowhere near what it is today. The family established a coffee farm which is fully integrated with washing stations and a roasting plant and offers the ‘crop to cup’ experience.

Women coffee growers
Women constitute over 90% of the Boneza farm employees

Over 90% of the farm employees are women who are a major contributor to the local economy. The coffee farm uses fair trade practices such as paying employees above the average wage and supporting the local community. Past community projects include providing water, a school building, rebuilding the local church and supporting the local children’s soccer team.

Think African: Kawah not Kahwa

Kawah should not be mistaken for Kahwa Coffee. Kahwa Coffee is the largest coffee roaster in Florida which sources Arabica beans from around the world used to make blended coffee. Kawah, on the other hand, is a premium, single source coffee that will one day become a household name. What’s the difference? Think single malt v blended whiskey. Nothing smells or tastes as good as premium coffee.

Premium, single-source Arabica coffee
Premium, single-source Arabica coffee

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