Nadine Umutoni is bringing Rwandan coffee to Canada—and giving back to genocide survivors

The Neza Coffee founder comes from a long line of Rwandan farmers, and her Vancouver company is brewing something good

Sleep-deprived overachievers might claim to have coffee running through their veins, but they’ve got nothing on Nadine Umutoni. The founder and CEO of Vancouver-based Neza Coffee comes from a long, caffeinated line of Rwandan coffee farmers. But when Umutoni moved from Rwanda to Canada 17 years ago, all she could find were blends—premium, fair-trade Rwandan coffee is on the expensive side, so big brands tend to grind them up with beans from other parts of the world. “Nobody really knows about Rwandan coffee,” she says.

Well, not for long. Umutoni explains that the COVID-19 pandemic gave her the opportunity to reflect on her what matters most to her, and encouragement from her family inspired her to continue their coffee legacy. “They said, ‘You know, you are the representative in North America,’” she recalls. “’Do something!’”


Nadine Umutoni, founder and CEO of Vancouver-based Neza Coffee

So, with the support of her family and Rwandan beans, Umutoni started making coffee out of East Vancouver’s Coffee Central Roasting and selling at local farmer’s markets. “Rwanda is called the country of a thousand hills, and the more elevation the farm has, the more premium the coffee gets,” explains the maker. Positive reviews poured in, with customers commenting on how light and smooth the coffee is. “I’ve gotten feedback that you don’t need milk or sugar to drink our coffee,” Umutomi says.

Now, Neza Coffee is sold at Safeway, and roasting operations moved to a larger facility in Victoria in late 2023. Neza offers espresso, medium and dark roast coffee for $18.99 a pound (and offers a subscription service, too).

Neza Coffee’s dark roast

Beyond offering British Columbians a comforting cup, Neza Coffee is focused on supporting Rwandans. As a genocide survivor herself, Umutoni acknowledges the lack of resources available for survivors back home. “Growing up post-genocide, we never got any therapy,” she says. “I’m lucky I’m here in Vancouver and have access to mental health care, but I know that so many people don’t… and because of that, trauma is being passed down.”

In partnership with Groupe des Ancient Etudiant Rescapees du Genocide (GAERG), Umutoni donates a portion of Neza Coffee’s profits to trauma therapy and mental health support for genocide survivors. “When you start a small company from the ground up, there’s so many moments when you want to give up,” says the founder, “But when I remember the impact that the coffee company makes—not just for me, for so many more people—that keeps me going.”