Mahembe is a privately owned washing station, owned by Justin Musabyiama who also grows his own coffee. Justin grew up in the local area and, after moving away for some time, decided to come back home and invest in the community by building a wet mill on his father’s coffee plantation.
He has an 8-hectare farm of his own, and buys cherries from the surrounding smallholders. This area is not as well known for quality coffees as some other parts of Rwanda, but has great altitudes and an increasing number of farmers growing coffee at the higher altitudes. We have found this coffee to be unique, with differences from other coffees in Rwanda in general, and with great potential.
Justin’s organised operations, plus the work he is doing on the ground to improve quality, gives great results in the cup.
The season for Rwanda can run from March through to August, but for the most part we are finding our selections coming from May to July picking of cherry. This can always shift a little depending on the weather and the altitude the coffee is being grown at.
Farms are generally very small family owned operations, the family care for the plants and pick the cherries themselves. Usually they will also grow crops for their own consumption, and there are a few farmers with more land.
There are a number of smallholder farmers in the local community delivering their cherry to Mahembe washing station for processing, and Justin is producing cherry himself. Competition for cherry can be pretty tough, farmers can deliver to whichever washing station they want. Maintaining a good supply of cherry is dependent on the relationships Justin has with farmers, and being able to offer competitive pricing. His roots and history in this community help him strengthen these relationships.
Justin and the staff at Mahembe are very competent, and trained in managing the delivery of cherry from the farmers. They have very strict routines for cherry reception and sorting, cherry delivered by farmers must be sorted by the farmers themselves, if this is not done sufficiently there are staff who will do further sorting. The cherries are placed in a tank prior to pulping where floaters are removed and processed separately as lower grade coffee.
The climate through most of the season in Rwanda is relatively cool, which assists in controlling the fermentation process. A Penagos Eco Pulper removes the skin, pulp and 70% of the mucilage. The coffee is then dry fermented for 10-12 hours. After this the parchment is graded and washed in channels, it is separated into two grades based on density before being soaked under clean water in tanks for 16 hours.
The parchment is initially taken to pre-drying tables, which are under shade, and where, while the parchment is still wet, a lot of hand sorting is done as it is much easier to see defects at this point. The parchment is dried on African drying beds for up to 21 days, during which time the parchment is covered by shade net during the hottest hours of the day, at night, and anytime it rains.