Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Mr. Coffee

Luzius Whipf at his roaster.
Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

The aroma of fresh coffee lures in tourists, students and business people in just about any corner of the world. That much is certain. But what makes Café Connexion in Butare, Rwanda so special?

Luzius Wipf has it down to a science.

"If you go to a cafe in Europe or even Kigali, coffee can be quite expensive," he said. "Here we offer it at 50 cents per cup."

The coffee's taste likely has a lot to do with it too. The beans come from local farms in the Southern Province, seven of which won the prestigious "Cup of Excellence" award from the Alliance for Coffee Excellence in 2015. Perhaps that's why the cafe is attracts so many Europeans and Americans visiting Rwanda.

Wipf is a globetrotting coffee connoisseur who has been in the business for over 20 years. A native of Switzerland, his last venture before coming to Rwanda was the Asia Coffee Company in southern Vietnam. The cheap, local coffee found similar success there.

"We had several people carrying around trays delivering coffee around the offices in the buildings," he said. "At our peak we were selling thousands of cups per day at 50 cents."

After traveling to Africa, Wipf saw the potential on the coffee business in Rwanda. It was here that he met his current business partner, Jean-Marie Irakabaho, who co-owns the cafe.

"My partner knew the local farms and the Rwandan coffee business better than anyone," Wipf said. "I had the experience of running businesses and it was a great combination."

Wipf explains the different tastes that can be achieved with
various roasting methods using the "Flavor Wheel"
Wipf packed up the massive roaster that now dominates the room at Café Connexion and set up shop in Butare. The country was already producing a large amount of coffee beans, however, there was still a big challenge.

"Coffee is not very popular in Rwanda," Wipf said. "But as time has gone by, we've been seeing more and more Rwandans come in for coffee. That's a good thing too, because one of our goals was to create an environment where people can come in and meet and connect."

Hence the name, Café Connexion. Another "connection" that he created was a network for local farmers. Wipf and Irakabaho use their expertise to help the farmers sustain their crops by teaching better agricultural management processes. And in order to sustain his own businesses, Wipf has one final secret.

"You have to work with good people, people that you can trust," he said. "I have that here. And without the people I work with, this would all be impossible."

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