Umurage Kigoma, Rwanda
Roast Level: Light/Medium
Varietal: 100% Red Bourbon
Roaster's Notes: The third crop from this estate we’ve had at Garage, but the first of which to be a natural. Big, juicy, jammy flavours of strawberry and plum fill the cup with a raisin finish.
Producer: Buf Cafe
Region: Huye District of Southern Province
Altitude: 1,750 metres
This 100% red bourbon coffee was processed using the natural method at Buf Café’s Nyarusiza, Umurage & Remera washing stations, at 1,743, 1,750 & 1,935 metres above sea level (respectively) in the south of Rwanda.
Buf Café was founded in 2003 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 Epiphanie and her son, Samuel Muhirwa, who is taking an increasingly active role in running and expanding the business. The title ‘Buf’ derives from ‘Bufundu’, the former name of the region in which its washing stations are located.
Epiphanie, who was born in 1959, was widowed during the 1994 genocide - which claimed over 800,000 lives in just 3 months - but chose not to leave her family’s small coffee farm. Instead, she set about rebuilding and developing her business and with it the local community. She started Buf Café in 2003 when she established Remera washing station with a loan from the Rwandan Development Bank and the assistance of the USAID-financed PEARL project.
This transformational programme was aimed at switching the focus in the Rwandan coffee sector from a 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, SPREAD, have been invaluable in helping Rwanda’s small-scale coffee farmers to rebuild their production in the wake of the devastating 1994 genocide and the 1990s world coffee crash.
Buf Café now owns three coffee washing stations – Remera, Nyarusiza and Umurage. They are currently building a fourth washing station as well, based on the local need. The company, which was serving less than 500 farmers in 2003, is now procuring coffee cherries from almost 7,000 smallholder farmers in the Southern province of Rwanda, among them, 1,069 are registered members. At Buf’s Nyarusiza washing station in 2014 there was a total of 798,685kg of cherry delivered throughout the season, approximately 5% of which was delivered by trees owned by Epiphane and her family. The remaining quantity of delivered cherry comes from farmers within the community surrounding the washing station.
Buf has very strong links with the local communities that supply it, providing jobs for 116 at Nyarusiza during peak harvest (May - June/July) and 9 permanent positions. A further 127 people are employed at Remera during harvest, with 10 permanent positions. (2014 figures) At the end of each season, Buf will share any surplus profits with both the cooperatives that it works with and its washing station managers.
The majority of the small farmers in the area have an average of only 300 coffee trees (less than a quarter of a hectare) and use some of their land to cultivate other crops such as maize and beans to feed themselves and their families. Most of their income from the sale of coffee is used to take their children to school, pay for medical care and for investment in livestock such as a cow for milk, both for use in the home and for sale locally.
The level of care that all Buf washing stations take over their processing is impressive. Cherries are hand-picked only when fully ripe and go through stringent sorting at all stages of processing.
This lot is particularly rare. Rwanda is not well-known for its naturally processed coffees, as the government’s coffee program (post-1990s turmoil) has typically focused on wet processing as a means of achieving higher quality. As such, washing stations have been dissuaded from using the natural method, due to its traditional association with lower grade coffees. With the rise of specialty coffee, of course, it has become apparent that when undertaken with care and attention, natural processing can result in coffee of astonishing and unique quality. This exceptional lot illustrates the best that natural processing has to offer perfectly. It’s boozy, fruity profile is clean and sweet without a trace of over-ferment. The very high quality can only be attributed to Buf’s staff’s diligent attention to detail.
As at most washing stations in Rwanda, women do the majority of the hand sorting. This takes place in two stages - on the covered pre-drying tables and on the drying tables. Coffee cherries are washed clean and then moved to pre-drying tables under shade cover. Here, the roofs over the tables protect the beans from the direct sunlight. Next, after being pre-dried, the cherries are moved onto the washing station’s extensive drying tables, where they are sorted again for defects, turned regularly and protected from rain and the midday sun by covers, ensuring both even drying and the removal of any damaged or ‘funny looking’ beans. After reaching 11% humidity, the coffee is then stored in a purpose-built warehouse prior to final dry-milling and hand-sorting. Each coffee that arrives is also cupped by the Q-graders of Buf’s exporting partner, Rwashocco.
Lots are first separated by collection point (farmers usually hail from around 3 km distance from each collection point) and are also separated out by days. Upon delivery as cherry, the coffee receives a paper ‘ticket’ that follows the lot through all its processing. This ticket bears the date of harvest, the collection point name, and the grade (A1, A2 etc) of the coffee – for instance, if a coffee lot is called ‘Lot 1- 06/04 - A1’, this means it was the first lot processed on April 4 and the grade is A1. This simple but effective practice is a crucial tool in controlling quality and ensuring the traceability of lots.