It is our seventh year working with Justin’s coffee from Mahembe washing station, and our love for clean, vivid washed Rwandan coffees has never been so strong.
Justin rose to coffee 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.
Through Nordic Approach and their relationship with Rwanda Trading Company (RTC), we’ve been able to maintain our relationship with Justin, having visited him at the washing station personally several times over the years, and we’ve been lucky to secure Mahembe lots from the last six years’ harvests.
The Washing Station
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 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, and so it stands a little apart from the flavour profiles of eco-pulped and then fermented lots we have roasted from Mahembe in the past.
The 2021 pickings were quite compressed with the harvest all ripening over a truncated period, and a washing station needs to well organised to cope well in these years.
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 he has several farm plots with tens of thousands of coffee trees and a secondary washing station operating in Nyagatare, which is supplied by 675 members of the Abatarushwa Co-operative. In Nyamasheke 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 filter and heat water for the workers and local farming community. The generator also powers lighting which allows the station to continue operating after sundown, meaning cherry can still be sorted and equipment can be better monitored and maintained. 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 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
A jammy espresso with a pleasing balance between fruit & spice. Tingly nectarine acidity complements a toffee sweetness, with notes of cacao nib in the finish.