Today was the first day of the Rwanda Cup of Excellence and so we started the day with a cupper’s calibration. Since we come from all around the world (13 nations between the 28 cuppers) we have to make sure that everyone follows protocol and that everyone scores the coffees somewhat similar. We had 3 sessions of 5 different coffees. A few good, a few mediocre, and a few stinkers.
One of the coffees we were given was an example of the potato defect, which is the most prevalent defect found in Rwandan as well as Burundi coffees. It actually makes the coffee smell and taste exactly like boiled potatoes. The theory behind how this defect occurs is that the coffee cherry in its green form is bitten by a small bug about the size of a finger nail called the Tiesta bug. They are unsure if it is the actual bug that introduces the bacteria into the coffee or if it’s the small hole it leaves behind that lets the bacteria in the air enter the cherry. Either way it is a huge problem that they are working like crazy to figure out.
The first round was just to score these coffees not knowing what order they were placed on the table. After we scored them, we went into the discussion room and talked about our scores and compared them to what the National jury’s scores were. The second round consisted of scoring the same coffees in the same order. This way we knew what to expect and could then adjust our scoring for a specific characteristic if in the first round we were not calibrated. The third round was again the same coffees, but this time mixed up on the table so that we could go back and see if we were scoring attributes the same.
During the cupping sessions, we attracted quite a crowd of children as they were curious about what all of these foreigners were doing. Once we came out to greet them, they were dying to get their pictures taken and were dancing around, walking on their hands, and doing cartwheels. They were so happy to see themselves on camera after their pictures were taken – it was truly incredible. Everyone here is always so happy. I was told that the new country motto is not land of a thousand hills, but a land of a million smiles.
Today was the first day of actual cupping, meaning that today is the first day the scores count. There seems to be a lot of power outages here as last night we lost power from about 6pm onward. It was pretty eerie trying to find my room and once I did, it took me a good 5 minutes to get the key into the lock so that I could unlock my door. Yesterday we were told that we would be doing 3 rounds of 10 coffees today, which is is 120 separate cups, so I was ready for a long day of scoring. Once we arrived at the facility, we were told that the power outage stopped the roasting of the samples and they could only get 14 of them ready for us to score. Great news for today as it gives us a chance to ease into scoring the coffees using the Cup of Excellence scoring sheet, a scoring sheet that I have used, but since we don’t use it at The Roasterie, it takes a little getting used to. It is also bad news for tomorrow as we now have 16 coffees that will carry over. Meaning that we now have 46 coffees to score and cup tomorrow, meaning that it is going to be a tough day with 184 separate cups to score. The coffees today were very impressive with some having the most complex acidity in any Rwandan coffee that I have ever tasted. They were so sweet and fruity that they reminded me of Kenyans, and if you know coffee, that is saying a lot.
After the cupping we went to a washing station about 2 hours away from the cupping lab. On our way the bus was constantly chased and yelled at by children. I asked our driver what they were saying and it was a combination of “white man” and “God bless.” Everyone you see smiles and waves at you and most seem to love to have their picture taken, although you will get some that say no when you ask. I was told that they are afraid that you will take their image and use it in a negative manner. For those of you not familiar with coffee processing, a washing station is where the local farmers take their coffee cherries to be sold. The washing station then buys the cherries, paying the going rate per kilo, processes them, and sells the coffee to buyers like me.
Before touring the station, we were taken down by the lake to see the nursery. They had 500 thousand Bourbon varietal seedlings. It was amazing to see as I have never seen that many seedlings in one location. The washing station was simple and had all the necessities to process great coffee properly. What was cool was that they hand sort and hand check the cherries for floaters before putting them through the de-pulper.
The ride back to the hotel was much as the same as the ride out. We were yelled and waved at by all the smiling children.