Rwanda, Gitwe with Mike

Origin visits are all about creating relationships and our Handshake program allows us to determine exactly which people we want to work with at every origin. Rwandan coffee is some of the best in the world and every year it gets better, so Rwanda is a wonderful place to visit and see this prosperous industry growing. The visits give us a real insight into how coffee is grown, processed and traded in each country. These insights allow us to set-up long-lasting sustainable partnerships, from which we can get exceptional coffees and make sure that it is done in a way that is financially viable and prosperous for everyone involved.

Rwanda was a great place to visit, with awesome coffees and a chance to meet some really great partners. The Rwandan coffee sector is really booming and the people who work in and around coffee are definitely benefiting from the good work. The exceptional terroir for growing coffee and the people’s hard work is really turning out some great stuff. So we are very happy to have lots of great coffees this year, including the newest lot from the Gitwe washing station.

Gitwe washing station is located in the southern end of Rwanda, in the Nyamasheke district. Gitwe was purchased by the Rwanda Trading Company 2 years ago, with the intention of focusing on high quality washed coffees and experimenting with natural coffees. Rwandan coffee is fast becoming one of the worlds most sought after and their new adventures in natural processing are yielding great results.

The new station manager Augustine has been instrumental in implementing a great program for washed and natural coffees. There are around 800 farmers who deliver their cherries to the Gitwe washing station. The average producer in the area has about 400 trees and last summer they were averaging about 10kg. of cherry per tree, which was quite a high number. This means that the average producer could earn 1,680,000 RWF for the coffee season. Compared to the federal minimum wage of 1,000 RWF per day, coffee picking and delivering to the Gitwe washing station, is ranking pretty high. Since it is a seasonal product, most people are doing it in conjunction with a lot of other farming or as a second household income. The extremely low number of trees per producer is what makes the cooperative model so important.

Gitwe is focused on producing quality coffees, so they are strict about excepting only the ripest cherries. These means floating before weighing and a second floating before de-pulping. The floating process helps to reduce the amount of under-developed or under-ripened coffees that go into each lot. De-pulped with a classic disc pulper, there is a lot of sugar left in the mucilage as it goes into the tank.

Additionally, because Gitwe uses a dry fermentation method, meaning the coffee ferments in a tank without water, there is a lot more concentration of sugar and thus a lot more interesting flavours for the feasting wild yeast to create. These disc pulpers are a bit high-risk. high-reward methodology, as the intense sugar concentration can also be home to off flavours and even some sour or rotten notes. However, when properly done, in clean tanks with sharp attention paid to the time they are allowed to ferment there, the outcome is exceptional. The last step of this stage comes after fermentation, the parchments are sorted by density in washing channels, and then soaked for an additional 12-15hrs. in clean water. This final soak is said to be the key to long last and more stable coffee. Bringing all the beans to a similar moisture level and also cleaning them off one final time.

The drying process is the next phase and also very important. All Gitwe’s coffees are dried on raised beds, but first, they must be skin dried in shade. Rwandan coffee processing is based a lot from the success that has been had in Kenya & Ethiopia. This skin drying or shade drying is essential, if wet beans are placed in direct sunlight there is a lot of water vapour, which builds pressure inside the beans and can create instability. Once the coffee is skin dry, it is ready for the raised beds and sun. On nice sunny days, coffees are laid out in evenly spaced beds, with mesh netting to allow good airflow. Covered during the hottest part of the day to avoid excessive drying of the outside or cracking of the parchment, then also covered at night to avoid excessive exposure to cool nighttime air which is very moist. All this is done in order to deliver a stable and uncracked parchment to the dry mill.

At the dry mill, they are cupping very sample and giving them a score, that score will determine exactly what the producers are paid. As the system works, they are paid initially for the weight of their coffee, then later in the season once the beans are processed and sold they will receive an extra payment based on the final sale price. So higher cup scores mean more people interested and thus the RTC can ask a higher price. Every year Rwandan coffee gets a little bit more expensive, simply due to the fans it has built-in roasteries and cafes around the world. While the price goes up, it is important to have partners like the Rwanda Trading Company, that are transparent about exactly where the premiums go, so we can see the impact of our paying a higher price. Once relationships are in place then we can really start to make an impact.

Gitwe washed is now available on our webshop and the bar. From the cup, you can find dried plum, oat cookie and cranberry.