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By: Holly Kragiopoulos 07 December 2015
Rwanda is known as ‘the land of a thousand hills’ which is an apt description for a country made up of misty rolling hills and terraced mountain sides brimming with tea and coffee. It also has one of the largest rainforests in Africa and is home to a third of the world’s remaining gorillas. Unfortunately though, the country is just as well known for the horrendous genocide and civil war that shook
the world during 1994, killing close to one million people in just 100 days. But to consider the country only in terms of its tragedy would be wrong – it is incredibly beautiful, culturally rich and is now one of the most peaceful nations on earth.
Coffee has long been heralded as an opportunity for change in Rwanda and has, in the past, received government backing along with support from NGO’s such as USAID and TechnoServe. As a producing country, it possesses everything needed for production of high quality coffee including high altitude, regular rainfall, volcanic soils with good organic structure and an abundance of Bourbon – one of coffee’s most complex varietals. A specialty sector was created in the early 2000s with a focus on quality, cleanliness and consistency.
Nowadays, much of Rwanda’s coffee is produced by smallholders of which there are thought to be around half a million with parcels of land often not much larger than just one hectare per family. Coffee is grown in most parts of the country, with particularly large concentrations along Lake Kivu and in the southern province. Rwandan smallholders organise themselves into cooperatives and share the services of centralised wet-mills –or washing stations as they are known locally.
The first of our Rwandan coffees this year comes from the Huye District in Southern Rwanda and we thought it was deserving of a dedicated post due to its fascinating background and cup quality!
The Huye Mountain washing station can be found just outside the town of Butare in the Mbazi sector. To reach it means a drive through the Nyungwe National Forest, a national park and rainforest home to chimpanzees and other primates along with around 200 different species of tree.
Huye Mountain washing station was established in 2011 by David Rubanzangabo who grew up in the nearby village. He is a man dedicated to smallholder farming in Rwanda who foresaw the potential of the specialty trade and set about to create a station focused on quality throughout the supply chain. He therefore approached local smallholder farmers and organised them around the washing station. Now, all income and profits contribute towards food security for the local community along with primary education and livestock. There are now around 1330 smallholders who deliver cherry to Huye and the washing station has succeeded in the Cup of Excellence competitions in recent years taking 2nd place in 2012 and 6th and 11th in 2013. This fantastic quality has brought about dramatic price increases for local farmers and David awards members whose coffees carry the highest cupping scores with the prize of a cow or goat. A cow has a huge impact on the life of a smallholder, providing milk for around 6 years and a constant supply of organic fertiliser.
Most recently, this washing station has been made famous due to its coverage in the recent release of ‘A Film About Coffee‘ which focused on what it takes to produce a specialty coffee. In previous years, Huye’s entire production has been purchased directly by Stumptown Coffee Roasters in the U.S and Single Origin in Australia. However, Falcon Coffees (our import partners) recently aligned with Westrock Coffee Company (U.S) making them a sister company of RTC (Rwanda Trading Company) which helped to fund the construction of the washing station in 2011 and manages all dry milling, export, price risk management and marketing for Huye. This is great news for us as it means Falcon have access to some truly stunning coffees and are capable of bringing in exclusive offerings to the UK which we otherwise would not see. This is the first year we have seen it become available for purchase in the UK and Europe and we feel truly honoured to have secured just 3 bags!
Freshly harvested cherries are taken to one of the 26 collection points around the Huye community before being delivered to the washing station where they are inspected to ensure only ripe red cherries are included. They are then put into a water tank to separate any unripe beans, the denser higher quality cherries are then pulped in a locally made disc pulper before entering a concrete fermentation tank where they are held for 12 to 15 hours. After this time, the mucilage surrounding the beans is loose enough to be washed away. The tank is therefore filled with water, the coffee is turned with a wooden paddle and is then drained. This process is repeated a further 4 times to ensure the coffee is clean before it is channeled through water and transported to raised beds for drying. The parchment coffee is then dried under shade before being taken to drying tables under full sun where the beans are turned and sorted by hand, removing any defects. This part of the process can take between 15 and 20 days. The parchment coffee will then rest for around 2 months (which evens the moisture content) before being trucked to RTC to be dry milled for export.
The result of all this effort is a truly outstanding coffee with a rounded orange acidity, ripe plum and black cherry flavour – syrupy mouthfeel with notes of pomegranate molasses and hibiscus florals. We really hope you enjoy it – for a limited time only!