Discover the flavors of Rwanda


Pack your bags and join the Caribou Coffee® coffee sourcing team on a trip around the globe in search of the best, most flavorful and unique coffee beans on the planet. But wait! You don’t have to go hunting for your passport quite yet; you can experience a world of flavor from the comfort of home, right in your favorite coffee cup.

Each exclusive coffee captures the essence of its origin: the love and care of the producer, how it’s harvested and processed, a unique varietal or an interesting story. They’re more than just great coffee — they’re the perfect example of our unwavering commitment to sourcing the most unique, sustainable, responsible and yes, delicious beans.

The latest addition comes to you via a collective of growers in Rwanda; unlike the Ethiopia and India coffees, which come from specific estates, the Rwanda Isimbi beans are a unique blend that showcases some of the signature flavors of the region.

Are you ready to take your tastebuds on a trip, simply by brewing up a pot of morning coffee? First, let’s talk about what makes one coffee variety different from another, and why those differences are so compelling.

bag of rwanda isimbi whole bean caribou coffee
The Rwanda Isimbi beans are unique because they’re not from one farm or grower in particular; they’re sourced from communities of farmers who use best practices in producing, harvesting and milling. 

What’s in a varietal?

We often compare coffee to apples when talking about growing and harvesting. Think of all the different apple varieties you can find at the grocery store: Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Granny Smith — they’re all apples, but they’re varied in color, crispness and flavor. Coffee starts out as a cherry, not an apple, but coffee cherries also come in many varietals; they’re hand-picked and roasted to bring out their unique characteristics.                  

Coffee falls in the plant genus coffea. Caribou Coffee only buys the Arabica species of coffee; our sourcing team, a group of coffee experts with a broad and exacting palate, uselets cupping (AKA a slurp-style tasting) to tell them everything they need to know about a certain type of coffee and whether or not it’s right for us. 

An essential part of the seed to cup journey is the relationship we’ve developed with farmers and growers across the world. These personal connections help lead the sourcing team to the quality coffee you expect from Caribou Coffee, and our latest launch led them to Rwanda.

A coffee collective

Rwanda is largely made up of small-holder farmers with less than an acre of coffee planted, averaging around 200 coffee trees per farm. The average amount of coffee grown per tree is about three pounds, which roughly translates into about a half pound of roasted coffee. Farms this size are pretty typical around the world, but the maturity of the plants, around 35 years old, and the fewer number planted means they aren’t as productive as farms in other countries.

“The coffee called Isimbi is collected across more than 60 washing stations around the country,” explains Senior Manager of Coffee Sourcing Brian Aliffi. “These stations serve as a destination for coffee producers to deliver their picked cherries for on-the-spot payment.” According to Brian, producers often deliver about 11-22 pounds at one time, depending on what they can carry. 

An initial screening for quality occurs upon arrival, using water to separate the low density (lower quality) coffee from the high quality. “This step ensures that only the best coffee is collected for use in the Isimbi profile, but that’s just the first of many,” explains Brian. “After separating the fruit from the coffee it is sorted by size and density into various grades, and dried on raised tables for approximately 30 days.” The coffee is then sent to a lab for cupping and tasting evaluation.

A new set of wheels

On a trip to Rwanda in 2019, Brian noticed how essential bicycles were for transportation. “I enjoy riding bikes and immediately felt a connection to those pushing immense loads, commuting through traffic, or flying down the freeways with dexterity and grace,” he says. “I was excited about an opportunity to provide a community that we worked with some bicycles to aid delivery of their coffee, as well as a useful tool for day-to-day life.” Caribou Coffee was able to donate 79 bikes to the farmers of the Karambi region; because many of the farms are about five times larger than the national average, having access to bicycles helps them maximize their efforts. 

photo of farmers and brian with bicycles
“One of the notable things that stood out on my last visit was how important bikes are for transportation,” says Brian (second from left).

“The significant impact of the bicycle provides a means to carry more coffee to the washing station at a time, which means more can be harvested at a time and more ripe coffee delivers when it’s best,” shares Brian. “This directly translates to more income for the producers and a greater quantity of better coffee.”

Tasting notes and brewing tips

Rwanda Isimbi is a lush and fruity blend, ideal for coffee drinkers who gravitate toward berry flavors. The coffee opens with sweet strawberry notes and develops into a complex finish of cinnamon and sugar to temper those juicy flavors.

“It’s a fairly medium-bodied coffee without a ton of acidity, not an overly bright coffee,” explains Brian. “It’s kind of jammy and fruity, reminiscent of red wine. Certain Rwandan coffees are much more fruit-forward, much less floral-forward,” Brian shares. “They have a fresh fruit sweetness, intrinsically associated with eating a strawberry or raspberry.”

Rwanda Isimbi is a versatile blend that can be brewed several different ways to bring out the intriguing textures and tones. “Making it as espresso, cold brew or drip filter will give you slightly different impressions of the red wine and fruit qualities in the cup,” says Brian.

Where does Rwanda Isimbi fit in in our lineup? Rwandan beans are present in both Daybreak and Lakeshore blends, but if you like the Colombia and Mocha Java beans, you may spark to the flavors of Rwanda. “It’s not even close to the same coffee, but this would be an interesting gateway for you to check out if you want to try something different,” Brian shares of Colombia. “At the other end of the spectrum, [Rwanda Isimbi] is roasted quite a bit lighter than Mocha Java … from an interesting flavor standpoint, Mocha Java drinkers would like Rwanda.”

Rwanda Isimbi is made with 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified beans and small batch roasted in Minnesota. Purchase Rwanda Isimbi whole bean coffee online or at your favorite Caribou Coffee coffeehouse (while supplies last). 

Grab your passport — or your mug — and let’s get sipping!