Rwanda is a small landlocked country in East Africa. Belgians introduced coffee there in the 1930s, but even though coffee has been cultivated for generations, only recently are we seeing truly great qualities of the Rwandan washed coffees. Until the year 2000 they focused mainly on high volumes and compromised on quality, and coffees were home processed and sold to local traders. The industry started to undergo privatization in 2001: the first private washing station was established in 2002, and the first container of fully washed, traceable, quality coffee was exported in 2003.
Today Rwanda has more than 300 washing stations spread throughout the whole country. There are significant differences in the flavor attributes in the different regions due to climate, soil, altitude and growing conditions. Small holder farmers with less than 200 trees pr farm make up the majority of the industry. One tree produces an average of 1,7 kg cherries, meaning it takes hundreds, or sometimes even thousands, of farmers to produce and deliver enough cherries to a washing station for one regular batch of coffee.
A producer who has grown up in the area (Justin Musabyiama) owns Mahembe washing station. Justin used to work as a driver for the National Organization of coffee (NAEB), but decided in 2010 to move back home, and start a wet mill on he’s fathers coffee plantation. He has an 8 hectare farm and he’s buying cherries from the surrounding smallholders. The area he’s located in is new for quality coffees as there are not yet as many producers located in the higher altitudes. Nevertheless, we found this coffee to be unique with a great future potential, and different from other coffees from Rwanda in general. The way he has organized the operations and the work he is doing on the ground on quality improvements and close follow up on production gives great results in the cup.
Washing Station: Mahembe Coffee Washing Station
District: Eastern Province
Commune/Local municipality: Nyagatare
Altitude: Coffee grown from 1700 – 1900 masl
Producer: Justin Musabyiama
Farmers: 500 farmers in total
Varietals: Different traditional types of Bourbon
Grade: Screen 15 and up.
Production: Eco pulped and wet fermented, graded in washing channels, soaked in water and, skin dried under shade with intense parchment hand-sorting before sundried on African beds.
Process: Cherries are separated in a flotation tank before they go in to production. A Penagos eco pulper removes the skin, pulp and 70% of mucilage. The coffee is then wet fermented for 10-12 hours. It’s then graded and washed in channels in to two grades based on density before soaked under clean water in tanks for 16 hours.
Drying: Sun dried up to 21 days on African drying beds with wire mesh. Coffees are covered in plastic during midday and at night.
Notes: The producer is investing to improve quality. Coffees are separated by daily pickings, and parchment is thoroughly sorted during drying to decrease potential off flavors and number of defected beans.
Cupping notes: Blackberries and citrus aromas. Sweet, intense and ripe with mature cherry flavor and currant acidity profile. Well structured with a medium intensity. Good range of complex berry flavors. Dense, rich and warming fruit notes in the opening, delicate with good intensity and juiciness. Balanced and subtle with a delicate and soft finish.
Eddie also sent us his tasting notes:
Brewed (FIlter): Malty | Spice | Red Fruit
Espresso: Cracked Pepper | Mulled Fruit | Spice | Cherry