In early June our co-founder, Jon, and roastery manager, Alex, took a trip over to Rwanda with our import partner DRWakefield.
The trip started out with a visit to the genocide memorial. It was a very sombre start to the trip but it was a very poignant reminder of recent history for the country.
You can read more about Rwanda's coffee growing history on our origin focus blog post.
The guys were up and out early to meet up with Jacquie and Malcom, founders of Kinini Coffee. From their time with Jacquie and Malcom, the guys found that it was very obvious that they are both are very modest in the help and change they have made to the village and local area.
Jacquie's parents were from the Musenyi village, and Jacquie wanted to help the situation there around deprivation, lack of schooling and basic medicine.
Malcolm is from the UK, but met Jacquie through Jacquie's late husband. He helped Jacquie's plan to build new beginnings come to fruition with various fundraising and events to get it off the ground.
After meeting up with Jacquie and Malcom, the group set off from Kigali heading east, driving through the eastern province, then north, passing through market towns up to the village where 'A New Beginning' is.
On the way they passed fields full of banana pants and rice, accompanied by stunning views. Rwanda had just come out of the rainy season, so the fields and hills were covered in vast amounts of lush greenery.
When the group arrived at 'A New Beginning' they we greeted by Jacquie's brother, John, who is the headmaster of the school at New Beginnings.
There was also a group of school children waiting for their arrival who sang songs for them all.
The group was then shown round the grounds, seeing the classrooms and football fields and also the medical and first aid centre.
These were all funded by Malcom's fundraising and DRWakefield's contributions. Since 2018, DRWakefield have raised just over $25000 for the community at New Beginnings.
The fundraising has also paid for the construction of a borehole, which provides clean drinking water to the village and surrounding areas. This water is essential to avoid malaria, the deadliest disease in the country.
Before the bore hole was constructed, the water had to be boiled to become safe to drink, however people would also go to a nearby reservoir to get water which was contaminated with disease from cattle.
The health centre provides services for 25000 people in the area, before this health centre was built, the nearest treatment for injury or disease was a 20km walk.
New beginnings also has a community centre hall which is used for weddings and funerals.
The group had another early start today as they headed south of Kigali to a farm at an altitude of about 1540m (above sea level).
Here they met a local farmer, they got to know about his life, how as a child he was severely malnourished which has led to disability and health complications, they also learnt about his agricultural techniques and about the coffee he grows. He doesn't let his disability stop him though as he is one of the most prominent farmers in the area.
Today the group spent their time down at the Kinini Washing station, where we get our Rwandan coffee beans from.
The washing station was built in 2015, this provided farmers with access to the speciality market by having a place where their coffee can go through processing before being sold into the wider markets. Kinini also have the option of micro financing for the farmers to keep their money for the kids to take to school.
It was a very interesting day out to see how the cherries are processed before becoming the final product that we roast in our roastery down at Brunswick Dock, Liverpool.
Coffee is brought from the farms over to the Kinini washing station to go through either wet or dry processes before being ready to be sold on. You can read more about various coffee processes on our 'What is Coffee Processing?' blog post.
Young coffee saplings are grown here and too co cooperatives to be grown into full trees. It normally takes about 3-4 years for any coffee tree to produce any fruit.
Once picked, the coffee cherry has to go through processes to remove the layers surrounding the bean. There are many layers before you get to the good stuff inside. These are; skin, fruit, mucilage and parchment. All coffee gets fermented, but the length of time for the fermentation varies for each different process. Fermentation will even begin as soon as a coffee is picked due to the presence of water, sugar, bacteria, and yeast.
Once picked ripe cherries go through a dehuller (depulper) to separate the cherry from the bean. After being pulped the beans will still have the mucilage on them - this is the sugary, sticky layer before you get to the bean. The mucilage plays an important role in the drying process as it releases the sweetness into the coffee bean during fermentation. The fermentation process happens over a few days, the beans are soaked in water with the mucilage present.
The natural process is the oldest way of processing coffee after picking the cherries. This way of processing is only really common in countries and regions where water is not readily accessed, or in short supply. Rather than removing the outer layer of the cherry, natural coffees are dried whole. This means that the bean absorbs and takes on some of the taste characteristics and sugars of the fruit itself. Before getting emptied onto the beds the beans will be floated in water and sorted, to remove any unripe fruits - this can be done by hand or with a machine.
After either processing method and once the pulp has been washed away, it is then filtered with stones, which are replaces every two months, and then kept in tanks and used for fertiliser and worming.
At the washing station they have a little worm farm, worms can decompose organic matter and food scraps which allow them to create an effective organic fertiliser for the coffee trees, this is instead of using any chemical fertilisers. It takes about 45 days for the worms to make the compost which is then used in the grounds around the farms.
Once the group had seen how coffee is processed it was time to test out the final product - it was off to the cupping lab!
Cupping is how coffee is tasted by producers and buyers all around the world to check the quality of a batch of coffee. In cupping, coffees are scored for aspects such as cleanness, sweetness, acidity, mouthfeel and aftertaste.
Today the group headed north of Kigali, to meet up with the KCRS Cooperative, which is the name of a group of female farmers in the Rulindo region of Rwanda. These women were also widowed or were children during the genocide of 1994. There are some male family members working on the farms, but the women took over ownership and charge of the land.
The KCRS Women's Coop has a strong connection with Kinini washing station, not only as their cherries go there to be processed, but because of their relationship with Jacquie.
When the women first came to Jacquie, they asked for her help to form a cooperative and get training from them at the washing station. They then worked together to make changes behind the scenes, get the paperwork in place, and after few days the cooperative was registered. The women then made 12 groups depending on which village is near to them making training and travelling easy for everyone. After all this was in place Jacquie promised that the coffee they produced would be marketed and sold under the coop name.
Jon and Alex have described this as a very humbling and touching experience, getting to meet these women, hearing their stories about how hard they have had to work to rebuild farms, provide for their families, and eventually producing some of the best coffees in the region - but also the joy and happiness that surrounds them now, even through all the hardships that they have faced.
The women, who are now expert farmers, were really grateful to meet the group, and thankful that people across the world were able to taste their coffee that was grown by them, on their farms.
As well as growing coffee these farms also have an incredibly diverse crop production. You will find legumes, beans, sweet potatoes and more which are grown in between the coffee trees - this allows income to be spread over the year as well as producing food for their own consumption
Day 6 was spent down at the Townger Ekawa Cooperative. The group were shown through the land and the washing station.
Here they got to learn more about washed coffee and wet fermentation processes.
The group were taught more about the raised beds and how they are very common in African countries whilst drying coffee (some producers throughout the world also put beans out on a patio to ferment).
By keeping the fruits on the raised beds it allows for the cherries to be kept off the ground and allow air to circulate more easily. The end result: clean cherries that dry evenly, creating a more consistent coffee.
They were then taken to where the coffee went through extra quality control measures, this is where it is being hand sorted to make sure the high quality (specialty) beans are separated from the lower quality beans.
After the coffee has been sorted through it then needs to be checked for moisture content, it needs to have dried down to about 10% moisture left inside the bean. This is done with a moisture meter.
From the time the fruits are picked to when the green beans are ready to be roasted the weight of the product decreases a lot. For example, if 5kg of fruits are picked, after processing you are left with about 1kg. Once the coffee is dried enough and ready to roast, the green beans, that then goes down again to around 800g. Then when we have roasted the green beans and it has fully dried and in the roasted state it leaves about 500-600g of coffee ready to be ground and drank. So you can imagine how much coffee fruits are needed to be harvested in order to produce us with the 60kg bags that we buy into the roastery.
Alex, Jon and the group then went on a hike further up the land to see more of the farm.
In the morning the group headed over to the NAEB centre, this is the National Agricultural Export Development Board, a government run export centre, to do some more cupping in the quality control lab.
The NAEB is a big warehouse that stores all the coffee before it gets shipped out to various parts of the world. Around 1000 people work at NAEB over the various departments, as well as storage facilities, coffee held here also goes through sorting, grading and bagging.
The coffee that is held there is sorted into two categories 'ordinary coffee' and 'speciality coffee'.
'Ordinary coffee' is that which has been processed on the farms, usually natural. It's okay coffee, but as it hasn't been processed properly at a washing station which means that it won't get sold for higher values. This usually goes to commodity coffee markets, or roasters who don't want to spend as much per kilogram.
'Speciality coffee' is the coffee that has been graded as exceptionally good coffee, usually scoring in the high 80's to 90's on the SCA grading scale. All speciality coffee in Rwanda has been processed at a washing station, meaning it has gone through more rigorous quality control checks before going to market. This is usually more expensive to buy than 'ordinary' coffee.
And on the 8th day, they rested... well, the team took a day off and headed out on safari before heading to the airport and coming back to the UK.
Jon and Alex have both said that the trip to Rwanda was such an immense experience and one that they would not be able to forget.