In Africa’s Great Rift Valley on the shores of Lake Kivu, little coffee farms cling to the southern slopes. The local varieties of heirloom Bourbon coffee plants offer complex, savory-sweet aromas and flavors along with moderate yet vibrant acidity and syrupy mouthfeel that specialty coffee buyers are coming to expect from this region.
At one time, the Lake Kivu region was a major exporter of coffee. But when ethnic conflict broke out in the 1990s, millions of people were killed or displaced, and the country’s coffee export plummeted. Unable to sell their coffees locally, many in this region smuggled their beans onto boats, crossing Lake Kivu in the dark of night to sell them in Rwanda, because what little they could get across the border was better than nothing. Thankfully, this situation is changing, and more and more coffee growers are gaining access to the coffee value chain that will bring them economic stability.