Travel journal: Rwanda — The Land of Thousand Hills

Back to Overview Published: 13/09/18 Duration: 5 min read
 Lake Kivu

Rwanda is a key coffee region for us. Each year, we are featuring main coffees with unique taste profiles. Often dominated by chocolate and cherry notes, a rich mouthfeel and beautiful textures.

Coffee grows across the whole country. The high altitudes and favourable climate, together with good farming practices, offer perfect growing conditions.

Ralf, Flo, and Paulina went on a sourcing trip to Rwanda at the start of June this year. Along came our coffee partners from London, Julian & Lauren from Milk Coffee together with their Head Barista Chris. The trip was organised by our sourcing partner, Rwanda Trade Company (RTC). The group went on to see farms and processing stations that grow some amazing coffees.

Follow our steps into the land of thousand hills. Text by our Paulina.

Paulina in the tea fields of Cyangugu National Park

 "At work, I drink much too much coffee for my own good, but still, I can hardly roll out of bed without the promise of a little cup of something brewed at home. One of my top coffees for this daily routine is Rwandese Mahembe. It was present on the filter menu when I have started working for THE BARN. It’s complex, with a strong sweet cherry vibe and a chocolate finish. I remember a customer we’ve had, who came for this exactly drink every day for a month. Charlotte came back to the shop recently, in advanced pregnancy, asking for Mahembe “for old times’ sake.” Nice.

So here I am, brewing my first Mahembe in December 2016, fast forward 17 months and I’m finding myself on the ground of Rwanda Trading Company’s new dry facilities in Kigali, not quite believing what is happening".

Rwanda Trade Company (RTC)
The old RTC warehouse

"RTC was established in 2009 in Kigali. It is overseeing production, processing of the coffee and finding its place in the global market. They are committed to ethical business, trying to give economic freedom and security for smallholder farmers. RTC is the owner of seven wet processing stations and works with over another 50 in the country. It is helping to improve quality, increase the yield, achieve higher scores, and marketing the coffees. Its fieldworkers are continually visiting stations, advising producers on agricultural procedures."

Cupping at the new RTC dry mill

"The dry mill is processing and exporting 15% of Rwanda’s coffee, including our Mahembe and Huye Mountain. Aside of the tour of the facilities, we’ve been invited to cup 22 coffees and then, based on our choices, the itinerary was established for rest of the trip."

Our tour

 

 Kageyo


Kageyo washing station

 

"After a few hours of driving, the first station we visited was Kageyo in Kibogora, Western Province. Elevated at 2000m, the coffee in the region goes through a slow maturation of the cherries, resulting in a sweet cup profile. RTC bought Kageyo from a cooperative of 100 members two years ago and is investing in improving farming practices as well as washing methods. This station is processing 20 to 30 tons of cherries in high season and employs 65 people. Kayego produces around 600 bags that have high quality for exportation."


Kageyo washing station

 

Mutovu

Mutovu washing station

"The next washing station was Mutovu, recently purchased by RTC. Located in the Gisagara District, in Western Rwanda, it has an elevation of 1772m. The station had financial problems and was close to bankruptcy. With the help of RTC, it is processing washed and natural coffee, which is scoring high and promising better future for Mutovu. The washed coffee stays in drying beds for around 14-18 days while the natural between 14 and 21 days."

Mutovu washing station

 

 Mahembe


Mahembe washing station

"Finally, it was time for Mahembe - winner of 2015 Cup of Excellence. It is located in the Nyamasheke District in an elevation of 1792m, near Lake Kivu. Its name means “horn of the cow.” The nearby Nungwe forest and the Kivu lake absorb a lot of heat from the area, making it much cooler at night. This slows down the maturation of the cherries, resulting in a more complex coffee. Mahembe is a long-term partner for us. We’ve been featuring their amazing coffees for four years."

Mahembe washing station

"Justin Musabyiama returned to his homeland after the 1994 Genocide. He started Mahembe washing station in 2008. Mahembe processes the production of around 500 smallholders farmers. Justin has a close relationship with the farmers he works, offering health insurance, school fees, and cows as premium payment to them."


Mahembe washing station

"After delivery, the coffee is weighed and sorted manually. It is estimated that for every 8kg of picked coffee, only 1kg makes the final product. The cherries are then depulped and classified in three different grades (A, B and C). After that, it undergoes through wet fermentation in separate tanks for 10-12 hours. Water enzymes help to lose the structure of mucilage. The beans are dried for two to three weeks."

Mahembe washing station

"Aside from natural fertiliser, like banana leaf and coffee cherry, government supplied fertiliser is used in the farms. Produced for a Rwandese soil, based on soil samples, it contains 22% of phosphor, 22% of nitrogen (crucial for fighting leaf rust), 10% potassium and sulfur. Samples of soil are taken every three years." 

Mahembe washing station

"Mahembe is processing 10 tons of coffee in high season. RTC is running certification programs that help agricultural practices and improves the quality of life on the farms, also resulting in better coffee. Certified farmers undergo training in agriculture, proper working methods, child labour, and gender practices. As a result, when coffee reaches better prices and the second payment goes back to the community."

 

 Huye Mountain

Huye Mountain washing station

"Huye Mountain refers to three mountains surrounding the washing station, with the highest pick on 2100 meters. David, the owner of Huye Mountain Washing Station, was working for National Coffee Foundation as a coffee controller. In 2012, he started his wet station. Farmers receive nutrition, agronomy, and management training. David awards farmers producing higher quality coffee with a cow or a goat. They provide milk for the family while supplying organic fertilizer for the coffee trees. Through his work, David and Huye Mountain became a role model for the community and throughout Rwanda. We’ve been working together with Huye Mountain in the last four years, showcasing their very balanced and complex coffees."


Huye Mountain washing station

"Huye is working with 1500 producers, collecting coffee from farms as far as 30 km away. The farmers are using only natural fertilizer, like water with tobacco or pyrethrum, a local flower that works against bacteria spread by Antestia bug. Nowadays Huye Mountain is processing 30.000kg of coffee a year, and its coffee is scoring high in the Cup of Excellence."

Huye Mountain natural coffee
 Huye Mountain honey coffee

"Huye Mountain has been using honey and full washed processing for many years. In 2018 they started processing natural lots too. They also began to process lots individually by origin, resulting in unique flavour profiles."


Huye Mountain cupping lab

 

 

Gitega Hills


Gitega Hills washing station

"Gitega Hills is a washing station established three years ago. It is located in the Nyamagabe District, Southern Province. They collect the production from 1500 farms with altitudes ranging from 1600 to 1900m. Gitega offers training for farmers and pays school fees for their children."

Gitega Hills washing station

"Gitega Hills two grading machines can process over 2.5 tons of coffee per hour. The higher-quality coffees are processed in an eco-pulper. After washed, the beans soak for 12 to 48 hours and then dry for 12-18 days. The coffee is sorted according to four different zones."