Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-467-6575,email@example.com
BUTARE, RWANDA - About 140 of Rwanda’s highest quality specialty coffees were entered for the first-ever Rwandan Golden Cup coffee competition. The competition will take place Aug. 28-31 at a cupping laboratory about 10 miles from Butare, Rwanda.
Of the 140 Rwandan coffees selected by coffee-washing stations throughout Rwanda, 101 were pre-qualified for Rwanda’s National Cup competition. From those, the 60 best were chosen to compete in the Golden Cup.
Coffees were evaluated using a rigorous pre-selection process, then were subjected to a further selection process by 20 national and international experts on coffee quality and taste, competition organizers said.
The 2007 Golden Cup competition reflects Rwanda’s emergence as a premier provider of quality specialty coffees, said Dr. Tim Schilling, director of the Sustaining Partnerships to enhance Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness Development project. This project, also known as SPREAD, is coordinating the Golden Cup event.
“In a relatively short time, Rwanda has gone from being an unknown as a country of origin of specialty coffee to becoming a provider of some of the best specialty coffee in the world,” Schilling said.
SPREAD is a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Texas A&M University System, said Schilling, who is coordinator for international programs at the Norman E. Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture in College Station.
The SPREAD project focuses on high-value crop development, particularly in the coffee industry, to broaden Rwanda’s agricultural capacity and market Rwandan agricultural products internationally, he said.
“For the past six years first through the Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda – or PEARL project and now through the SPREAD project, Texas A&M and other project partners have provided significant practical assistance to Rwandan coffee producers and producers of other high-value crops,” added Linda Cleboski program development coordinator for the Borlaug Institute.
“This support includes on-site, grass-roots assistance and education to help Rwandan farmers increase their incomes and improve their quality of life, she said. “Dr. Schilling, for example, has lived in Rwanda since 2001 and has been deeply involved in a number of project efforts to rebuild that industry.”
These efforts have helped produce higher incomes for hundreds of coffee growers, including many widows or orphans of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, she said.
“This has enabled many of them to buy a home or make home improvements, pay for medical care or schooling, and purchase everyday necessities, such as food and clothing,” Cleboski said.
Besides being an important venue in which to showcase Rwandan specialty coffees, the Golden Cup also will serve as a “trial run” for hosting the highly revered international Cup of Excellence® coffee competition and auction in Rwanda in 2008, Schilling said.
The Cup of Excellence competition allows producers to receive international recognition for their product and to get top prices for their product from buyers worldwide, he said.
An international jury of 16 experts from as far away as Tokyo, London, Seattle, Los Angeles and Chicago will come to Rwanda to judge the Golden Cup event, Schilling said. During a process of five “blind cuppings” at the lab near Butare, judges will score coffee quality and taste using a strict protocol, then eliminate coffees with the lowest scores. The elimination process will continue until the final Golden Cup winners are selected.
“The large, well-equipped cupping lab, which will serve as the event venue for the 2007 Golden Cup competition, is another result of long-term coffee industry revitalization efforts in Rwanda,” Schilling said. “It was built as a means of quality control for more than 20,000 holder-farmers operating through their own export company.”
Winners of the 2007 Golden Cup will be selected and announced on Aug. 31. An award ceremony will follow at 3 p.m. at the Milles Collines Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda. The following day, members of the international jury will bid on the winning coffee lots evaluated during the competition.
Along with receiving a prestigious Golden Cup award and having their coffee-washing station acknowledged for its excellence, the winning coffee producers will receive 85 percent of what is typically a record auction price for their product, Schilling said.
“I’m excited to be a member of the international jury at the 2007 Golden Cup competition in Rwanda,” said Geoff Watts, vice president and green-coffee buyer for Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago.
“Rwanda has gone from being completely unknown to producing some of the most coveted specialty coffee in the world, competing with top Latin American producers,” he said. “I’m hoping this competition will have a positive impact on the Rwandan coffee industry and on Rwanda’s overall prosperity.” The Golden Cup competition represents the culmination of years of effort, Cleboski added.
“Prior to 2001, many Rwandan farmers were plowing up their trees because they couldn’t find buyers for their coffee. Now they’re competing in their first-ever Golden Cup competition. And Rwanda will probably host next year’s international Cup of Excellence. That’s an incredible turnaround.”