Local Coffee Is Finally Getting Its Due in This Vibrant African City

Here's where to tour coffee farms and sip on Rwandan brews at cafes in Kigali.

<p>Godong/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images</p>

Godong/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Stepping into Cave Coffee is a multisensory experience. Lush, verdant green plant life punctuates every corner, while mahogany brown walls are set off by bright yellow seating lining the floor-to-ceiling windows that allow the Rwandan sun to stream in. And it’s all awash with the bitter-sweet scent of what’s brewing. It’s a carefully curated coffee shop that perfectly represents a destination known as the “land of a thousand hills,” Kigali, Rwanda. And the 2024 Global Tastemakers panel of food and travel experts deemed it the Plus One among cities for coffee — a can't miss coffee destination.

Coffee makers whir in the background while baristas pour liquid gold caffeine out of espresso machines, pour over carafes, and dab frothy milk over espresso concoctions at Cave. Cafes like it all over the city are filled with Gen Zers, business people, and friends congregating over a cup. It’s a scene you’ll find in every city around the globe, but here in Kigali, Cave Coffee and its other third-wave counterparts are experimenting with an experience that’s fresh and new to most locals.

According to Coffee Beans Delivered, coffee cultivation in Rwanda was born during a period of colonization under Belgian and German colonial rule in the 1930s. It was then that coffee production became mandatory across large parts of Rwanda. This created a system of low-quality, high-quantity production, which plagued the industry for decades. And, during political instability in the 1980s and the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, coffee cultivation was nearly obliterated.

Related: 10 Top Cities for Coffee, According to the Experts

Today, coffee plays a vital role in the Rwandan economy as one of its key cash crops, and the country is the 28th largest coffee producer globally. But, what’s different here is that coffee is grown by small farms rather than the massive ranches sprinkled across South America and Ethiopia.

Visit Rwanda states that there are 450,000 small farms totaling just 42,000 hectares under coffee cultivation, with the average farmer boasting just one acre of land and 165 trees. Almost all of the coffee beans are Arabica, and 95% of this Arabica crop is from the Bourbon variety. There are nearly half a million micro coffee farms across the country, producing over 35 million pounds of coffee annually.

“Most of the coffee farms are in Gisenyi near Lake Kivu, but there are also farms near and within Kigali,” says Ryan Hirwa, a coffee farmer in Rwanda. “Since the industry is growing, the coffee scene is quite competitive, and we are able to make substantial returns from our crop.”

However, just because Rwanda’s production size is smaller than nations like Brazil and Colombia, doesn't mean it's any less significant, especially to a local population in Kigali that is savoring its bounty. For decades, coffee here was viewed as a luxury drink exclusive to tourists and the upper class. Now, it’s for everyone.

“Four years ago, people didn’t like coffee, but through education, the coffee scene has grown exponentially.” Peter Hitimana, a local guide who offers coffee farm walking tours to locals and travelers, shares. "This has helped people learn about the process and growth of beans alongside coffee tastings.”

While enjoying my own cup of coffee in Kigali, I savored the brew, which produces a silky cream body and hints of orange blossom and lemon, with a caramel aftertaste. It's a soothing and smooth feeling while swallowing and a complete amalgamation of taste that can really only be had here.

However, the price of coffee remains a challenge. A cup can cost between $2.50 and $5, while more than 60% of the population earn less than $2 a day. But according to Neal Ndayisaba, a waiter at Cave Coffee, this price is an improvement from where it was a few years ago. “A packet of coffee is sold at 10,000 RF ($7.50) while a cup of coffee is 3,000 RF ($2.50), which is quite affordable to locals, and many people now visit coffee shops because of affordable pricing,” Ndayisaba says.

There’s also been a steady increase in coffee shop openings in Kigali, proving there's a future in local consumption. These cafes are used by visitors, college students, business professionals, freelancers, and groups of friends to congregate and socialize. Young people are especially flocking to these establishments because of their aesthetic appeal.

The Coffee industry in Kigali is developing because the customers are now more diverse,” Vincent Mutesi, a coffee barista at Java House, says. "We get more youth and business people coming into coffee shops more than ever.”

Looking to explore Kigali’s burgeoning coffee scene? Here are five shops to try.

Question Coffee Gishushu

Often listed as one of the best places to visit in Kigali, this cafe was started in 2013 by Bloomberg Philanthropies. It's invested in training coffee farmers and producers to uplift smallholder farmers in the value chain. Go for a coffee tour or visit their coffee center.

Rubia Coffee Roasters

Rubia brews represent the truest expression of the coffee roaster's craft here in Kigali. But don’t miss its food, which is also local and delicious.

Kivu Noir

Kivu Noir is one of Rwanda's biggest coffee shops. Its coffee is grown on the shores of Lake Kivu, and it is ranked in the top 1% of the world's highest-quality coffee estates. You can also go on a coffee tour to learn about the history of Rwandan brew.

Cave Coffee

This establishment is where exceptional coffee meets contemporary charm and classic cuisine. Located in Kigali, Cave Coffee is a low-key favorite spot for digital nomads and college students to bond over a cup of coffee.

Java House

Java House is one of East Africa's finest coffee franchises. Here, guests will find a soothing and calm atmosphere with abstract African art paintings on the wall and soulful music playing softly in the background.

Global Tastemakers is a celebration of the best culinary destinations in the U.S. and abroad. We asked more than 180 food and travel journalists to vote on their favorites, including restaurants and bars, cities, hotels, airports, airlines, and cruises. We then entrusted those results to an expert panel of judges to determine each category’s winners. In many categories, we’ve included a Plus One, hand-selected by our expert panel, to shout out more culinary destinations we don’t want our readers to miss. See all the winners at foodandwine.com/globaltastemakers.

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