Owens' Liz writes below about her recent visit to Rwanda in the first of a series of updates on the trip:
It is just over a week since I returned from Rwanda and it has been a whirlwind! What an experience!
I've personally never visited Africa before, a fact which every Rwandan we told was surprised to discover...and this response was always met with a wide smile and a very eager, genuine and hopeful 'And how have you enjoyed your visit to Rwanda?!'. There was only ever one answer...'It has been incredible!'.
Why did we visit Rwanda?
The opportunity presented itself when our friend and Owens' trade customer Jabo Butera (of Plymouth's Diversity Business Incubator and the Jabulani Food Court in Union Street) introduced us to Christina Wilkins and Tom Carder of Brand Biscuit Studio / Tom Carder Media.
Christina and Tom had enjoyed a cup of Owens-roasted Jabulani coffee with Jabo and as they did, they'd begun to uncover the amazing story behind the beans.
A little bit of background
For those who aren't aware, the Diversity Business Incubator (DBI) is a CIC based in one of the most deprived areas of Plymouth, as well as the most diverse ward of the City. DBI's purpose is to create business opportunities and provide comprehensive, sustainable business support for minority ethnicities living and working in the South West.
The Jabulani Food Court is a successful project created through the DBI, which provides a space for self employed restaurateurs from diverse backgrounds to deliver high quality, cultural menus (including foods from East Africa to the Caribbean) using ingredients sourced in the South West wherever possible. These foods are served up in the seating area provided in the food court, available to take away, or they are provided in the form of on-site catering at events and meetings in and around Plymouth.
At the centre of the Jabulani Food Court and therefore at the heart of this community is really great coffee - the 'Jabulani' single origin coffee. The beans were sourced by Jabo and brought to the UK as part of a collaboration between Jabo and Owens Coffee, then roasted by us here in Ivybridge to create this roast.
Jabulani is my own personal favourite for using at home (I use a filter brewing method at home, but it is also great as an espresso). It is a specialty single origin coffee: a medium roast, with a juicy black-tea finish and notes of Champagne and ripe citrus.
Planning an adventure!
As they enjoyed a cup of Jabulani around a table, Jabo, Christina and Tom found that it led to lots of ambitious ideas, as well as the beginnings of a plan for travelling to the cooperative in Rwanda's Gakenke district. And as Owens is a part of the Jabulani story from crop to cup, we agreed that it would be a great idea to send someone from our team to join the group.
By some stroke of excellent luck, that job fell to me!
The idea behind the trip would be to completely immerse ourselves in the country, culture and the coffee, with a view to fully understanding the Jabulani story, what it means to the farmers to be a part of the Twongere Kawa Coko cooperative (the coop where the Jabulani coffee comes from), and to learn more about organic farming and how the Fairtrade system directly impacts on those involved in the coffee production process.
The timing for our adventure was fortuitous in that it coincided directly with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2022, due to take place for the first time ever in the capital City of Kigali. Rwanda was (at the time) the newest member state to join the Commonwealth (though others have joined since CHOGM '22) and we decided to make the most of this opportunity by attending as delegates. This gave us a unique opportunity to meet other people involved in the coffee industry as well as people doing creative, innovative and inspirational work throughout the Commonwealth.
I could not have hoped for a more enriching experience! And whilst I was aware of the global scale of the coffee industry (the world's second most important commodity after oil), seeing and understanding the impact first-hand in this way was eye-opening! It was also extremely meaningful for me as an individual and for us as a team at Owens.
Knowing that sustainability and responsibility are important to many of our customers, I am sure that the stories we bring back from the trip will mean a lot to you too.
The ladies above are just a small representation of the women who work within the cooperative. It was wonderful to meet them in person. We couldn't speak one another's language, but even when my colleague wasn't translating, we still found ways to connect. I'm excited to tell lots more of this experience...
In part 2 of this mini-series of updates, I'll write about what I've learned of the country of Rwanda and its people. I could talk about it for hours, but I'll try and keep it to a few paragraphs! Until next time...!