Friday, February 24, 2017

All Female Value Chain Creates Delicious Cup of "Jane"

Feb. 24, 2017
Earlier this month Espresso Elevado, a micro-roaster in Plymouth, MI, brought a new Rwanda roasted coffee to its shelves. This coffee is labeled to highlight the women's cooperative that grew the coffee -- the Ejo Heza group of the KOPAKAMA cooperative, Rutsiro district of the Western province of Rwanda. About 300 women of the 775 total members formed their "sub-cooperative" in 2011.
Women of Ejo Heza with their coffee trees - Bernice, Therese and Olive (L to R).
Upon closer inspection, this coffee goes a few steps further than "just" being sourced from female coffee producers. The coffee was imported by woman-owned Artisan Coffee Imports and roasted by woman-owned Espresso Elevado, making it a very unique "all-female-value-chain" coffee.

The coffee tastes great in the cup. With Espresso Elevado's roast, we find the flavor complex with sugar plum and pink lemonade fragrance, maple syrup, winey, plum aroma. After the break, flavor has wine and berry, vanilla, roasted almond, butter and clove with aftertaste of butterscotch and hints of orange. Great smooth body with the familiar Rwandan ‘sparkle’ of acidity.

Teresa Pilarz - Founder & Chief Caffeinator of Espresso Elevado Espresso Elevado
 Roasting notes from Teresa:  
The first time roasting any new coffee is always somewhat of a shot in the dark.  I noticed this Rwandan seemed to lose a lot of heat after first crack began.  Our goal was to maintain a gradually decreasing rate of rise and prevent any heat spikes during the latter part of the roast. In working with this bean, we’ve figured out how to keep it quite light-roasted and still reach a solid 20% roast development.  This brings out the sparkling acidity while also allowing the complex flavor profile to shine through with hints of dried fruit, exotic spice, and butterscotch sweetness

If you'd like to purchase a bag, you'll find Espresso Elevado near the "town square" of Plymouth, MI at 606 S. Main St.  Retailing at $16/12 oz. bag you can also get a fresh pour over of Rwanda Ejo Heza.
Ruth Ann Church - Founder - Importer at Artisan Coffee Imports (also Chief De-caffeinator!)
 Sourcing notes from Ruth Ann: 

  • This Rwandan coffee is from Ejo Heza, a women’s cooperative that is a sub-group of the larger KOPAKAMA cooperative. Located in the Rutsiro district of western Rwanda, there is a fantastic view of Lake Kivu from the washing station.
  • I was able to visit them several times while I lived in Rwanda, Nov. 2015 – Aug. 2016.
  • The washing station is recognized by others and me as one of the better-managed ones. They have processes in place to ensure quality and I observed a well-managed washing station staff.
  • The Ejo Heza women receive a lot of agronomist support and other training from KOPAKAMA. For example, one of the reasons I met them is because I was giving a leadership and management training to the cooperative ("Lean at Origin" training). The president and two others from Ejo Heza were invited to be in this training. In other words, there is evidence of lots of inclusion for the women of this coop.
  • The women asked me to see their trees and some of the experiments they are doing with weeding and mulching to lower their costs. (See blogpost) I was very impressed. These women are running experiments with control plots on growing techniques! Their objective is to lower their costs while maintaining the high quality coffee production that earns them a higher price than low grade coffees.
What do the women do with their “bonus” from coffee? The KOPAKAMA cooperative helped them start a microcredit savings and lending group a year ago (Jan. 2016). It is well-proven in development literature that microcredit groups are effective vehicles to enable savings and small loans in low-income rural areas. See this blog post for two stories from women of the Ejo Heza group, sharing what microcredit group has helped them accomplish. 
Therese and Olive - Leaders of the Ejo Heza group of women producers.

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