The coffee was processed at Buf’s newest washing station, Umurage, which had its first year of operation in 2017. Umurage washing station is located in the district of Huye, in the Kigoma sector in Rwanda’s Southern Province, at 1,750m above sea level. The Huye district has been the most awarded district in the Cup of Excellence competition.
The Umurage washing station is managed by a long term employee of Buf, Angelique Muhawenimana. Angelique started her career as a coffee sorter, and then worked as Head of Quality Control at Nyarusiza and Remera washing stations for many years. Today she oversees the washing station operations and work closely with the farmers and coffee sorters to ensure that the coffee is harvested and processed with care and that production standards are kept at the highest possible level.
Umurage translates to “Heritage” in Kinyarwandan. Ben from Buf coffee explained, “This name acknowledges the generations before us who farmed coffee, and to recognise our obligation to sustainably produce coffee, in order to transmit coffee farming to our future generation.”
Umurage collects coffee from 400–500 coffee farmers that grow coffee in the surrounding area at an average of 1,600–1,800m above sea level. This high altitude allows the beans to ripen slowly, resulting in a coffee that is complex and intensely sweet. All of the water at the washing station is incredibly clean due to the washing stations proximity to the Nyungwe Rainforest and River Nile. This, combined with the area’s nutrient rich soil and high rainfall, contributes to a transparent and clear cup. All of the water used by the station is cleaned using a water sanitation system, to clean and treat the water and remove all contaminates.
ABOUT BUF COFFEE
Buf Coffee was founded in 2000 by Epiphanie Mukashyaka, a dynamic businesswoman and a source of inspiration to countless other female entrepreneurs in Rwanda’s coffee sector and beyond. Buf is now managed by Mukashyaka—known to all as Epiphanie—and her sons, Samuel and Aloys, who have taken an active role in running and expanding the business. The name ‘Buf’ derives from ‘Bufundu’, the former name of the region in which its washing stations are located.
Epiphanie lost her husband, a child, and many extended family members in the horrific genocide in 1994. She was faced with the responsibility of caring for her seven surviving children and rebuilding their life. With a limited education and little money or support, Epiphanie, whose husband was a coffee farmer, decided to focus on coffee, and set about rebuilding and developing a business, and with it the local community. She started to learn more about speciality coffee with the assistance of the USAID-financed Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL) project, a transformational programme aimed at switching the focus of the Rwandan coffee sector from an historic emphasis on quantity to one of quality—and so opening up Rwanda to the far higher-earning specialty coffee market. The programme and its successor, Sustaining Partnerships to enhance Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness Development (SPREAD), have been invaluable in helping Rwanda’s small-scale coffee farmers rebuild their production in the wake of the genocide, and the world coffee crash, of the 1990s.
Epiphanie went on to establish Buf Coffee, and decided to build a washing station, with the help of the PEARL programme and a loan from the Rwandan Development Bank. ‘I came up with the idea to build this,’ she says, ‘and nothing was going to stop me’. She established Remera Washing Station in 2003 and Nyarusiza in 2005, and was the first woman in Rwanda to hold a privately owned company and produce specialty coffee. Her aim with the washing stations was to improve the quality of coffee by shifting the focus from producing commercial coffee to producing high quality specialty coffee. In doing so, she aimed to add value to her processed coffee in order to secure higher and more stable prices for coffee farmers in the region. As a result, she not only improved the livelihood of her family, but also improved those of her neighbour farmers and wider community, directly by increasing their income (through higher prices paid for their cherry) and, indirectly, by bringing important services like safe water and electricity to their villages via the establishment of washing stations.
Today Buf Coffee buys coffee cherries from as many as 7,000 smallholder farmers, including five different local cooperatives. Buf has very strong links with the local communities that supply it, providing jobs for hundreds of locals during peak harvest (May–June/July) and ten permanent positions year-round.
The majority of the small farmers that supply Buf Coffee in the area have an average of only 300 coffee trees each (less than a quarter of a hectare), and also use their land to cultivate crops like maize and beans to feed themselves and their families. Most of their income from the sale of coffee is used to send their children to school, pay for medical care, and for investment in livestock such as purchasing a cow for milk, which is then used at home and for sale locally. Buf continues to invest in this community, building a kindergarten so farmers’ children can be cared for while their parents are at work, and distributing cows to 500 families in a five-year long project aiming to provide crucial nutrients and a potential secondary income for coffee farming families.
Buf Coffee’s exceptional quality has been recognised year after year. It was awarded a prize in the 2007 Golden Cup; and placed in the Cup of Excellence in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015 (note the Cup of Excellence was not held in Rwanda in 2016 or 2017).
HOW COFFEE IS PROCESSED AT UMURAGE WASHING STATION
- The ripe cherries are picked by hand and then delivered to the washing station—on foot, by bike, and by trucks that pick up cherries from various pick-up points in the area.
- Before being pulped, the cherries are deposited into flotation tanks, where a net is used to skim off the floaters (less dense, lower grade cherries). The heavier cherries are then pulped the same day using a mechanical pulper that divides the beans into three grades by weight.
- The beans (in parchment) are then dry-fermented (in a tank with no added water) overnight for 8–12 hours. They are then sorted again using grading channels; water is sent through the channels and the lighter (i.e. lower grade) beans are washed to the bottom, while the heavier cherries remain at the top of the channel.
- The wet parchment is then soaked in water for around 24 hours, before being moved to pre-drying beds where they are intensively sorted for around six hours. This step is always done whilst the beans are still damp because the green (unripe) beans are easier to see. It is also always done in the shade to protect the beans from direct sunlight (which they have found helps to keep the parchment intact and therefore protects the bean better).
- The sorted beans are finally moved onto African drying beds in the direct sun to dry slowly over 10–20 days. During this time the coffee is sorted carefully for defects, and turned regularly to ensure the coffee dries evenly. It is also covered in the middle of the day when the sun is at its hottest.
- Once at 11–12% humidity, the coffee (still in its parchment) is stored in the washing station’s warehouse, in carefully labelled lots, until it is ready for export. The coffee is then sent to Buf’s brand new dry mill, Ubumwe (built in 2017), to be dry-milled. Here the parchment is removed, and the beans are sorted again by hand and using machinery to remove any physical defects. This is done under the watchful eye of Edouine Mugisha, who has worked with Buf since 2011. Having control over the milling of the coffee means that Buf has greater control over the quality of sorting and processing from cherry delivery right through to export – a very exciting development indeed!