Expanding global markets for high-quality, sustainably produced and sourced coffees is a crucial component in the long-term survival of specialty coffee, and one of the ways to achieve this goal is to keep more coffee in producing countries for domestic consumption.
It’s also an important factor in bringing producers deeper into the value chain, and in the overall promotion of quality from seed to cup. The Question Coffee Café in Kigali, Rwanda is a shining example of this effort, and to encourage that enterprise to continue growing and progressing more autonomously, Equator Coffee and Teas, Sustainable Harvest and Boot Coffee have joined forces for a win-win project to bring knowledge and expertise into the Question Kigali management force while providing a dream-come-true experience to one deserving Rwandan barista.
That barista is rising 28-year-old Rwandan coffee professional Dan Sibomana, brought into the fold by Boot’s Marcus Young amid the founding of the Question Coffee Café. Sibomana is currently the manager of the shop, and brought to his position a wealth of experience in helping to run the café at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, and prior to that as an assistant roaster at Bourbon Coffee, a crop-to-cup Rwandan company also based in Kigali.
“He’s one of the handful of really passionate and engaged young coffee professionals in Rwanda,” said Young, who serves as the Boot Coffee Campus director and senior consultant.
“He’s so bubbly, laughs all the time, makes everyone feel comfortable and involved. He’s like an extreme barista,” Equator Director of Training Devorah Freudiger told Daily Coffee News. “He’s outgoing and friendly and wants to tell you the story of the coffee, but also just loves being that host, welcoming people to the café.”
Equator Coffee & Tea has spearheaded a crowdfunding campaign to offset the costs of bringing Sibomana first to Sustainable Harvest’s Let’s Talk Coffee industry summit in Mexico this month, and then to the United States where he’ll receive professional training at Boot Coffee as well as cross-cultural exchange in various Equator retail cafes. It’s an overall experience that is hoped not only to bolster the future of Question Coffee in Rwanda, but to be mutually perspective-enhancing for everyone involved.
“I think it’s going both ways,” said Freudiger. “Having him in the café and working with our baristas is going to help give them that connection. It’s always important to us to inspire our staff, like ‘Hey, you’re part of something bigger.’ Here’s this window of what coffee’s like on the other side of the world in a producing country. Or what it can be like, because of his unique experience.”
Young and Freudiger note that because the café culture in Rwanda is so different, being largely ensconced inside of restaurants as opposed to standalone coffee-focused establishments, it’s difficult for a shop like the Question Coffee Café to find its niche.
“In order for this to scale and be sustainable and be a model for keeping great coffee in coffee-growing countries, and that you can have cafes run by local people serving great coffee, the store has to be profitable,” said Freudiger. “It has to make money on its own, it can’t be subsidized.”
Beyond the formal education at Boot, Sibomana’s experience at Equator will also involve exposure to management techniques in the field, ranging from scheduling, training new hires and developing new recipes and pricing to interacting with and training new wholesale clients.
Sustainable Harvest is picking up the tab for the LTC attendance. In California, Sibomana will be staying with Bay Area host baristas and will be compensated for his time both training and learning from staff at Equator cafes. Boot Coffee is providing him the full SCAA foundational curriculum, up to and including SCAA Roasting Level 1 courses, and he will receive a wage as an assistant for the week that he’s there.
The crowdfunding effort, which has raised just over $2,000 as of this writing, is to cover airfare and other travel-related expenditures. Said Freudiger, “These three companies, we’re pitching in a lot, but we thought it would be cool to get the community involved.”
In addition to that campaign, Young and Freudiger are also hoping to gather donations to an accompanying SWAG drive, collecting all manner of coffee-related goods such as brewers and other merchandise to be used by Sibomana as prizes at throwdowns and other gatherings upon his return to Kigali.
“We’re going to send him home with a pile of coffee and cool t-shirts so he can throw a competition of some sort and get everyone together and give everyone cool American stuff,” said Freudiger.
More information about Sibomana and the fundraising efforts is available here.
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.