10 Minutes With Angelique Karekezi: Part Two

We finish up our interview with the managing director of Rwashoscco Ltd., a coffee company in Rwanda.

BY ERIKA KOSS
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Cover photo courtesy of Denyse Kamugwiza Uwera

Note from the editor: Last week we began a conversation with Angelique Karekezi, one of the few females in the Rwandan coffee industry in a leadership role. She discussed her upbringing in coffee through family, and how she eventually got involved herself. Today we wrap up the interview by talking about her own coffee, Angelique’s Finest, and the strength of women working in coffee.

Angelique’s Finest has been publicized by Kaffee Kooperative in Germany. Photo courtesy of Angelique Karekezi.

What keeps you going despite all the challenges in coffee?

Most people think that women in [the] coffee business are only in farming, production, and processing. While it’s true most women are doing those jobs, we are also there in coffee marketing and selling. Even though we are not many, I’m really passionate to help women invest and be known in all parts of the coffee business. I want people to understand how hard women work in their contributions in all of coffee.

The International Women’s Coffee Alliance has been an important part of your success. How has this global organization inspired you?

In 2016, I was selected to be the president of the Rwanda chapter, so that same year, I went to Mexico City for the IWCA Leadership Summit of different chapters around the world. That was my first time to be among different women with big business activities in coffee. When I came back to Rwanda after Mexico, I tried to think about how I can start something new that could help increase sales through telling women’s stories.

Before that conference, I had met two men from Germany from Kaffee Kooperative, who were really interested to sell our coffee as a finer-quality product. I began to think, maybe I can discuss and ask those men to help sell women’s coffee. So I asked our cooperative managers to process the coffee from women separately, so we would have the traceability to show to buyers that really, this coffee is from Rwandan women, as a chance to show the efforts of the women.

It was really all a dream for me, because I thought, how can these two German men want to sell women’s coffee? But after I explained my idea, they said, “Wow, even the story can help to sell the coffee.” By 2017, we made an agreement with Kaffee Kooperative, they did a trial in the German market, and they started to design the artwork for the bag of women’s coffee.

Why is the coffee named “Angelique’s Finest”?

What I can say also is it was a big challenge for me to name this coffee. Even though the women’s coffee was my idea, I was also telling our German partners that it’s not our culture to design something with your name. They convinced me that using my name would help German consumers understand the concept of this coffee. But I asked them to use a member of our association as the picture on the bags, so that this coffee could represent the face of the farmers.

They are our mothers. So that way, the face of the product presents mothers in coffee, who contribute so much to the coffee value chain. And me, as the daughter of coffee farmers, then the name presents daughters—and we need to link our mothers’ efforts with market needs to create added income for them. In the end, I thought, if one family’s life is changed because of my using my name, then that is my honor to do that.

Women have to be so strong, both physically and emotionally, to continue to work in coffee, despite all the challenges.

It is true. There are strong women behind each cup of this strong coffee, so that the world can learn more about the life, feelings, and thoughts of the women in our association. In 2018, we sold 13 tons of roasted Angelique’s Finest in the German market, and demand is growing, so this brand is helping us all be more sustainable for the future. And we are so happy that each of the bags has the line, “Strong Woman, Strong Coffee.” We have been working with a Rwandan photographer, Denyse K. Uwera, and many other supporters, to create a photo book that will feature our mothers and daughters, titled Strong Women Behind Strong Coffee. We hope it will be released later this year. We want to keep selling the coffee and telling our stories.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erika Koss’ coffee career began in 1995 as a barista in San Diego. Now living in Nairobi, Kenya, she is a research associate at the University of Nairobi, a Ph.D. candidate in International Development Studies at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and an Authorized SCA Trainer. Follow her on Instagram @aworldinyourcup.

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