Rwanda AB Isimbi Mushonyi Station
Updated: Sep 16, 2019
We aim to provide you with a wide range of quality options in a single origin.
To complement our selection of single origin coffees, we always try to find a couple of strong price/quality combo coffees that sit in the sweet spot for blends or easy filter or espresso coffees. They sit in the 84-85 cup score range, with a cup profile that is very representative for the country. In Rwanda, we call this range “Isimbi”. This lot from Mushonyi washing station is part of the Isimbi selection from the 2018 harvest. Its brown sugar and blood orange profile makes it a crowd pleaser.
The History of Rwandan Coffee
Rwanda has had a troubled history and coffee has been a part of that history since the 1930’s. At that time, coffee was a key driver of the economy and the Belgium colonial government forced farmers to grow coffee whilst controlling prices and imposing high export taxes. The result of this was that the farmers earned very little for their low-grade coffee, which served as a filler to higher quality beans used in commercial-grade coffee. This high volume and poor quality coffee exportation model persisted following Rwandan independence in 1962 with marginal, if any, improvements to the coffee quality or to the welfare of the farmers who grew it.
The next major change was the 1990’s world coffee price drop crisis, which occurred as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda took place. These two events took a massive toll on Rwanda and its coffee industry and by the year 2000, the washing and processing infrastructure for coffee was completely devastated and this made growing coffee a near pointless endeavour.
It took about ten years for the industry to begin to recover, and now, in modern day Rwanda, there is a National Coffee Strategy to further recover, improve and expand the coffee industry. This aggressive economic strategy is geared towards the production of high quality coffee cherries and therefore high-quality beans, or as we know it – specialty coffee. Funding from both the Rwandan government and other countries as well as private investors has made all this possible. Farmers and their families now benefit from higher and more stable prices and exciting projects such as Buf Café continue to emerge.
Speaking from my own exposure to Rwandan coffee, it has become a considerable player in the third wave that’s exploded over the past few years within the UK and Europe. Roasters such as Drop Coffee Roasters and Has Bean have caught this wave and latched onto the revival of the coffee industry in Rwanda.
About Mushonyi Washing Station
The Mushonyi washing station is located in the Rutsiro district in Rwanda’s Western Province on the shores of Lake Kivu. It sits at an altitude of 1827. The station receives cherry from producers at altitudes from 1600 up to 1950m in the surrounding hills.
When producers deliver their cherry at Mushonyi, the washing station staff removes any lower quality cherries through flotation and visual inspection. Mushonyi has sorting tables and a trained staff only for this purpose. Given the high number of washing stations in Rwanda, the stations face high competition to receive cherry from the surrounding community. For this reason, they have to accept almost every delivery to prevent the producer to sell elsewhere with less hassle. With so much choice of buyers, he will always find a station that accepts his coffee. Hence, an important selection task has to be carried out by the washing station staff in order to produce the best coffees.
The washed process follows the classic method for processing. The cherries pass through the depulper and mucilage removal machine. With part of the mucilage still intact, the coffee undergoes a 24-hour fermentation in concrete tanks to break down the fruit. Fermentation time depends on the weather conditions. Afterwards, the coffee passes through the washing and grading channel. The densest beans remain at the start of the channel. The beans with least density float to the end of the line. This process separates the batch into 5 different parchment grades.
Mushonyi is also equipped with a state of the art Pinhalense eco-pulper. The machine integrates the flotation process and mechanical mucilage removal in its flow. From the hopper the cherries flow into a basin. Here, the machine skims off the floaters and feeds them into a different channel for pulping. The good-quality cherries sink and flow into a channel for the “approved” processing.
With such a wide range of cherry qualities going into washing station, each station naturally produces a wide range of qualities. This is where the Isimbi range comes into play. The best lots are sold as microlots. The Isimbi lots sit just one rank below those, representing a fine quality washing station bulk lot.
Rwanda Origin Structure
Mushonyi washing station is part of our structure in origin through the company Rwacof. Rwacof manages the washing station, collects the dried coffee and mills it for export. The team is on the ground year-round, providing support on various levels to the coffee producing community. Through our sustainability branch Kahawatu Foundation, they receive training on good agricultural practices but also, equally importantly, health and safety education.
Rwacof operates 19 of Rwanda’s 300 coffee washing stations.