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Seven Seeds Sourcing | Rwanda

As we shine the spotlight on Musasa, Rwanda, and enjoy this exceptional coffee, we reflect on how things have changed since 2012; the last time Seven Seeds featured a Rwandan release on our single-origin menu.

Courtney Jackson, Seven Seeds roaster, green buyer and Head of Quality Control, takes us on a deep dive into how the coffee scene in Melbourne has shifted over time, how this change in consumer habits, and the pandemic, has impacted the Seven Seeds sourcing strategy. 

 


 

We were in our fifth year of trade the last time Seven Seeds had Rwandan coffee on the menu. Julia Gillard was the Prime Minister of Australia, and the Australian Dollar was roughly at par with the U.S. Dollar. The not-so-brief hiatus from Rwanda as a sourcing origin for Seven Seeds certainly wasn't a reflection of the quality available to us at that time but a shift in priorities.

A lot has changed since 2012. Throw a global pandemic in the mix, and you get an unexpected evolution in the Melbourne coffee scene over the last ten years. Even before COVID, throughout the mid-2010s, there was a notable shift in the consumer market away from the exuberant, slightly intimidating coffee bars for which Melbourne was known. Locals would eventually boycott the elitists' pressure to experience coffee in ways most found uncomfortable. Many renewed commitment vows to their beloved espresso as the go-to brew, while the thirst for theatrical, flashy brew apparatus faded, making way for the U.S. style of no-fuss batch brewing. Roasters and cafe owners scrambled to make sense of the new wave of 'less-is-more' approach demanded by their customer base.

This shift in consumer habits affected how Seven Seeds presented its product range. We needed to adjust, as everyone in the industry has, and we found more substance in a refined, focused menu offering. We ditched the Aeropress, syphons, and the over-elaborate cold drip setups and reconfigured how we think about brewing coffee.

Behind the scenes, during the lockdowns, we used the time to reflect on how and why we source coffee and what impact we'd like to have on the people at the other end of the supply chain moving forward, all this while attempting to satisfy a new generation of Melbourne coffee clientele. We chose to push ahead, recommitting to our core values by honouring relationships that have been the staple of our offering since the early days of operations. Guatemala, Honduras, Bolivia, Brazil and Ethiopia have always been at the heart of what we do. 

Meanwhile, coffee production in Rwanda has gone from strength to strength. Before 2001, Rwandan coffee farmers processed their cherry at home, where it would be roughly de-pulped and washed and dried on the floor, creating a low-quality commodity-grade coffee called semi-washed. The government incentivised Central Washing Stations (CWSs) to improve coffee quality in coffee-producing areas, much like the Kenya/Ethiopia model. Today, more than 300 washing stations operate across Rwanda. The growth of washing stations and the improvement in processing for Rwandan coffees has added at least a 40% premium to Rwandan coffee's export value since the early 2000s. 

As we emerge from the tail end of the pandemic, repositioning ourselves in an ever-changing landscape, our long-term relationships have provided the anchor needed for all parties to thrive within the existing supply chains - the backbone of our sourcing model, if you will. Fast forward to 2023; this stability has allowed us to explore origins like Rwanda again. On hold for over a decade, not by preference but by circumstance, we can finally re-invest time and effort and predominantly attempt to make some difference in a new part of the international coffee-growing community through our customers' support.

Thank you to our sourcing partners, RwaCof/Sucafina, for the photos from the Musasa Washing Station in Rutsira, Western Province, Rwanda.

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