By Ffion Davies
Since the duplicitous Civil War that took hold of Rwanda in 1994, coffee farming and production has been used as a vehicle for positive change. The commodity is grown on approximately 500,000 farms and has transformed the country, giving it hope for a better future. It is quickly becoming one of the forerunners in the specialty industry. With its ideal coffee-growing conditions - regular rainfall, high altitudes of 1300-2000 masl and volcanic soil - Rwanda currently produces some of the most delicious coffee around. Rwanda's yield is entirely of the bourbon varietal, which, coupled with these excellent growing conditions, brings about a great deal of complexity and vivid flavours when the coffee is roasted and brewed.
Rwanda's most notable coffee growing regions are its Western, Southern and Northern provinces, where there is a total yearly production of around 278,000 60kg bags. The vast majority of this harvest is produced by smallholders who own pockets of land that are no larger than one hectare in size (approximately 180 trees per family). These tiny farms usually organise themselves into cooperatives, sharing the services of centralised wet-mills/washing stations. Huye Mountain is one of these said stations.
Huye Mountain, based in the Huye District of Southern Rwanda, was established in 2011 as a private washing station by philanthropist David Rubanzangabo. The owner cares deeply about the smallholder farmers who deliver their coffee to his facility. Around 1,330 producers actively grow, pick, and deliver coffee cherries to 26 collecting stations around the community. With a yield of around 4kg per tree, each farm typically produces two sacks of coffee. It is collected every day during the harvest season by a driver who makes the round-trip to each station before returning to the wet-mill.
Harvesting usually takes place between March and June in the Huye District, and the processing that occurs around this time is typical throughout East Africa. Upon arrival at Huye Mountain washing station, the freshly delivered coffee is inspected thoroughly to ensure only good red and ripe cherries are selected for processing. The ripe cherries are then put into a receiving tank, where floating cherries of a lower quality are removed, and the denser, high quality cherries are taken to be pulped. They are then put into a concrete fermentation tank where they are held for 12-15 hours in dry conditions. When the mucilage on the beans is loose enough to be washed away, the tank is filled with water and the contents is turned with a large wooden paddle before the tanks are drained. This process is repeated a further four times to ensure that the coffee is washed and is completely clean of mucilage. Beans are then channelled through water, and are transported to raised beds for drying in the sunshine. At this stage, the coffee is checked for defects, turned regularly and sorted by hand. It is an arduous, gruelling process that can take between 15-20 days.
Huye Mountain has been validated by Rubanzangabo's success in the prestigious competition, the Cup of Excellence. The farm achieved second place in 2012, and 6th and 11th in 2013 when they showcased two competing lots. This drive for quality has brought with it a generous increase in prices and wages for local farmers. In addition to this, members whose coffees carry the highest cupping scores are awarded with the prize of a cow (40 members each won one) or a goat (60 winners last year). A cow can make a huge difference to family and everyday life in Rwanda. Enough milk will be generated for about 6 years, in addition to providing a constant supply of organic fertilizer for the coffee trees. The scheme is mutually-beneficial for everyone!
These are just a few reasons why Huye Mountain is so special. In addition to helping bring Rwanda out of a dark time, it is providing a hub in the community, incentivising farmers to remain sustainable, and encouraging those involved to maintain a crop of an outstanding quality. At Coaltown, we are very proud to be roasting this coffee. With tasting notes of black cherry, pomegranate and hibiscus, Huye Mountain is delicious and is the perfect selection for filter home brewers!
Huye Mountain washing station has also gained widespread recognition in recent years for its appearance as the focal point in the documentary 'A Film about Coffee'. It is a fascinating and informative documentary that examines what it means for coffee to be deemed 'specialty'. You can watch the trailer here and download the film on Vimeo.