Rwanda's 2019 harvest marks our fifth time 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 2010 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 Nordic Approach and their relationship with Rwanda Trading Company (RTC), we’ve been able to maintain the relationship and secure Mahembe lots from the last four years’ harvests. We returned to Rwanda this summer to revisit him at his station, taking Kristyna, our Quality Assurance Supervisor, on her first trip to origin, who could instantly recognise Justin’s coffees on the cupping table at RTC because of their vivid fruity qualities.
Despite success from early on, 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 this year mid-season 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 a traditional three-disc pulper, which inevitably altered the fermentation profile of his coffees this year, compared to the last three. We don’t feel it has negatively affected quality, conversely there is a little more depth and ripeness to the fruity tones in the lot we have chosen this year, potentially as a result of the increased level of sugars on the parchment as it is left to ferment, providing more fuel for the native microbiome relied on to break down this pectin rich layer surrounding the seeds before washing and soaking.
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 trees, but they now have 40,000 coffee trees planted on their land, which next year will be certified organic. They are 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, as well as use on their other crops.
As always with our espresso roasts of coffee from Mahembe, expect a balance of jammy fruit, subtle baking spice and a deep, brown sugar sweetness.
Nyamasheke, Western Province, Rwanda
Zesty orange, subtle spice & a sticky date sweetness make for a clean, moreish espresso. Expect flavours of maple syrup & candied pecan in milk.