Rwanda, May 2018
A few weeks ago, the Raw Material team visited Rwanda with our producer partners Muraho Trading Co. As harvest season was in full swing, we had the opportunity to visit MTCo’s washing stations mid-processing. As well as cupping and building this year’s upcoming containers in Kigali, we were joined by roasters who had previously supported the work of Muraho Trading Co, and travelled across the Nyabihu, Nyamasheke, and Gakenke regions to meet with teams at each station we have worked with.
It was our first visit to the newest member of the MTCo family, the Gisheke washing station, in the Nyamasheke district. This station borders Lake Kivu, the large bordering lake of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This station is currently only accessible by boat, and many producers in the area transport their cherries via the lake for processing. Though the station is young, it is equipped with the learned experiences of MTCo and their station managers, which has aided the station in producing impressive cups right off the bat.
Almost 40% of the cherries received at Gisheke comes by boat from Mushungwe Island (The main island pictured below, and two other smaller islands). The station itself is located at 1650 MASL, but sources coffee from as high as 1850 MASL.
We arrived at Gisheke as a new lot was being prepared for the drying tables. Post pulp and wash is a vital moment in hand sorting, where undesirable beans may differ in colour and can be easily removed by sight. Once the beans begin to dry however, this colour difference is no longer visible, and the coffees become homogenous in hue. Pictured below is an example of the hand sorting table, followed by a selection of the beans that were removed.
Kilimbi CWS was one of two first washing stations to be granted approval to produce natural and honey processed coffee in Rwanda by NAEB. The coffees produced here sit between 1650 - 1800 MASL, and the elevation of the Kilimbi station lends itself well to the production of exceptional honeys and naturals.
In 2016, the production of honey and naturals was officially authorised by NAEB, which has opened up the window to exploration of new techniques within the two processes. When we visited the Kilimbi washing station, we arrived just as a new lot of honeys from this experimental method had been laid out to dry, joined by some new variations to the methodology of the experiment.
Drying beds stretch across a large open plain, where airflow, the lakeside breeze, and maximum sunlight exposure assist coffee as it dries. During our visit we saw the drying of several honey lots, which we are looking forward to sharing with you later this year. We were warmly welcomed at every one of the MTCo stations, and were able to spend a large portion of our visit to Kilimbi meeting with the Kilimbi's station manager Joseph Ntarindwa and his team.
Rugali was one of two washing stations first approved for the official production of honeys and naturals by NAEB. The station processes coffees from 1500 - 1800 MASL. We were joined by roasters who had bought from the station's previous harvests, and where possible, our roasting partners brewed the coffees processed at the stations to share with the teams. Rugali was no exception (picture no.4), where we were able to brew several of the coffees roasted worldwide.
The journey to Shyira coffee washing station through the hills of Nyabihu is a constant and gradual climb to 1850 MASL. Though at a high elevation itself, Shyira's washing station processes coffee from producers whose farms sit anywhere between 2000 - 2400 MASL. The coffees from this station are the highest grown we know of in Rwanda, making for a particularly bright profile. Near to the washing station itself was the land of Frederic Ntaganda, who kindly allowed us to pick cherries on his land, before taking them down to the station to join the processing.
As outlined in this earlier article, Vunga's washing station facilities were recently upgraded through additional second payments to the station based on quality of the milled green coffee produced. Vunga had historically functioned without the use of a serpentine, which the improvement works added, as well as additional fermentation tanks, drying spaces and beds to the station.
Unfortunately, due to heavy rainfall in the region, Vunga had been hit with a landslide which began behind the station higher up the mountain. Miraculously, no one was hurt, and there was minimal damage overall, as the landslide cut right through the middle of the station's land, missing the most important aspects of the infrastructure. Thankfully, business was able to remain somewhat as usual, and the station has been able to successfully continue with harvest and processing.
The largest of the MTCo family is Bumbogo CWS. Turning the corner as we descended the hillside, the scale of the station's volume becomes apparent, as drying beds expand across the valley below. Situated in the Gakenke district, the station processes coffee from the surrounding area between 1650 - 2000 MASL, in an area well known for highly scoring coffees.
During our visit we were invited to join the team in scrubbing and washing the coffees as they moved through the station's serpentine channels, separated by density as the channel moved down the slope towards large storage tanks. As well as these washed coffees the station namely produces, we are excited to be offering honey and natural coffees from Bumbogo this year.