This marks our sixth season buying coffee from Mahembe coffee washing station, processed by Justin Musabyimana in Rwanda's Nyamasheke region.
Justin rose to fame quite quickly; his initial move in 2008 to take over his father's coffee farm led to operating the coffee washing station at such a high level that he placed 4th in Rwanda's 2014 Cup of Excellence (CoE) competition and continued to place highly in following years.
After first purchasing and roasting Mahembe in 2013, we struggled to compete for Justin's lots in 2014 and 2015, as his reputation in the CoE attracted buyers from Starbucks. Thankfully, through import partner Nordic Approach and their relationship wit Rwanda Trading Company (RTC), we've been able to maintain the relationship and secure Mahembe lots from the last five years' harvests.
We last visited Rwanda in the summer of 2019 to revisit Justin at his station, taking Kristyna, our Head Roaster, on her first trip to origin. She instantly recognised Justin's coffees on the cupping table at RTC because of their vivid fruity qualities.
The Washing Station
Despite his early success, Justin is always adapting and aiming to improve his specialty grade coffees. In 2016, the coffee washing station eschewed their traditional disc pulper in favour of a Penagos eco-pulper, used to depulp and mechanically remove mucilage from the coffee seeds before processing.
However, due to a freak lightning strike mid-season in 2018, their depulper exploded, taking a reception tank used for floating coffee cherries with it. They rebuilt the tank and structures surrounding the depulper quickly, and reinstalled their traditional three-disc pulper, which inevitably altered the fermentation profile of his coffees.
The increased level of sugars on the parchment as it is left to ferment provide more fuel for the native microbiome, relied on to break down this pectin rich layer surrounding the seeds before washing and soaking. As a result, it stands a little apart from the flavour profiles of eco-pulped and then fermented lots we have roasted from Mahembe in the past.
Justin continues to focus on producing high quality, specialty coffee, which makes up around 75% of his total production. As well as purchasing cherries from local smallholders for a premium price, they tend to their own 8-hectare farm near the coffee washing station. When we last visited, there were 12,000 coffee trees, but they now have 40,000 planted on their land, which next year will be certified organic. They are also collaborating closely with the 70% female Twitezimbere Mahembe Union to bring selectively picked, ripe coffee cherries to the station.
As well as rebuilding part of the processing station, Mahembe have recently installed a solar powered generator to boil water for the workers. They continue to make organic compost from the discarded coffee pulp, which the smallholder farmers delivering cherries can take to put around their coffee trees to increase vigour and yields and use on their own crops.
As always with coffees from Mahembe, expect a balance of crisp red fruits, a sweet, juicy character, brisk tea-like notes and delicate florals.
Nyamasheke, Western Province, Rwanda
Enticing aromas of floral honey & grapefruit zest lead to a balanced, caramelly cup. Look for a soft, plush acidity like ripe apricots.