Coffee lovers in China are increasingly embracing brands like Starbucks, Costa and local ones like Luckin. But few know that one of the countries producing high-quality, high-altitude coffee beans is Rwanda.
As the East African nation positions itself as a world-class specialty coffee destination, Chinese company Alibaba Group is lending a helping hand to raise its flavor and aroma profile through technologies and networks, as well as people dedicated to its promotion, China Daily reported.
Diabate Dean Harry, a French project leader from Tmall Global, seems a perfect fit. A graduate of Alibaba’s global talent nurturing program — the Alibaba Global Leadership Academy — he understands the Chinese tech emporium just as much as he understands Africa, the continent where his parents originally come from.
Before joining Alibaba, Harry worked for leading retail brands on the Champs-Elysees in Paris and delved into exotic technologies, such as augmented reality. He then moved to China and started his own digital marketing business in the heart of Shanghai, the report said.
Harry said he sees himself playing a bridging role in a company that is successful in the home market but also wants to seek growth overseas. That’s what propelled him to apply for Alibaba’s ultra-competitive one-year program for future global leaders, which offers experiential and academic learning.
Upon graduation he became a full-time staff member at Tmall Global, a branch dedicated to bringing overseas goods to Chinese customers via e-commerce. His background coupled with deep comprehension of the Chinese market landed him the opportunity to promote coffee from Rwanda.
Rough packaging is one malaise plaguing the sales of Rwandan coffee. Harry encouraged local partners to change the packaging and conducted a number of public relations campaigns to alter the stereotype held by many people about Rwandan coffee, the report said.
During the October campaign named “Tear Off the Label for Africa,” close to 80 million people read the articles that were shared on Weibo about Rwanda and its coffee and more than 700,000 people joined the conversation on the platform.
Results were heartening: In just four days, 1,066 packs of Rwandan coffee were sold. About 762 packs were sold in just one day and one of the coffee brands sold out on the first day.
Harry believed he acted as an ambassador of an ongoing effort known as the electronic World Trade Platform, a concept proposed by Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma to connect worldwide small-and medium-sized enterprises through e-commerce, technology and streamlined administrative procedures. Rwanda is the first African nation to sign the eWTP deal with Alibaba.
“I strongly believe that the best help doesn’t come through donations or charity but through empowerment. Our work has empowered an entire industry, creating tangible win-wins for everyone including farmers in the coffee washing stations and changing the lives of the three coffee suppliers that participated in this campaign,” he said.
According to Al Jazeera, there are approximately 400,000 farmers across Rwanda earning a living by cultivating coffee. The crop, which brought in US$58 million in 2017, is key to the country’s economy.
Rwanda also exports more than 80% of its coffee, its second-largest export earner, with just 16% of all homegrown produce being consumed domestically, according to Clare Akamanzi, executive director of Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
Rwandans, it turns out, would rather drink tea, soft drinks or a cold beer. Locals say tea is seen as a utility, coffee is seen as a luxury.
Rwandan coffee, in the bean form, is mostly exported to Switzerland, the United States and Singapore, with primary African destinations being South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. It was only in April 2018, that the first consignment of roasted coffee beans left Rwanda for the US, the report said.
Experts say Rwanda coffee is a fusion of sweet, buttery and caramel notes with surprising citrusy and fruity overtones. This amalgamation of flavors is delicately balanced to create a complex and unusual coffee flavor.