Located in the Gakenke region of Rwanda and founded in 2005, the Mbilima Washing Station is part of the well known Dekundekawa Musasa Cooperative and is the second washing station to be built by them, to support farmers who were further away from the Cooperative’s first Washing Station at Ruli.
Much of the success of Musasa Dukunde Kawa can be attributed to the transformational PEARL programme of which it was a part. The project switched the focus in the Rwandan coffee sector from an historic emphasis on quantity to one of quality, thus opening Rwanda up to the much more highly-valued specialty coffee market. The programme and its successor, SPREAD, have been invaluable in helping Rwanda’s small-scale coffee farmers rebuild their production in the wake of the devastating 1994 genocide and the 1990s world coffee crash.
‘Musasa’ means ‘a place to make a bed’, and ‘Dukunde Kawa’ means ‘let’s love coffee’ in Kinyarwanda; it is a reference to the power of coffee to improve the lives of those in rural communities. And that it certainly does! Farmers who work with Musasa Dukunde Kawa have been able to buy their own livestock, have access to long term credit without interest and many now have health insurance for the first time. The Cooperative has also built two schools and contributes 10% of its profits to the construction of new washing stations in other areas.
Roughly 459 smallholders deliver coffee cherries to the Mbilima Washing Station, with about 80% of them being women and the Washing Station itself is mostly staffed by women. The level of care that Musasa Dukunde Kawa takes over the processing is impressive too. Cherries are hand-picked only when fully ripe and then delivered to the washing station on the day of harvest, they are then hand-sorted based on quality. The cherries are then pulped and dry-fermented before being washed with high-pressure water and then graded once again using flotation channels that sort the coffee by weight (the heaviest – or A1 – usually being the best).
Next, the beans are moved onto the washing station’s extensive drying tables for around 14 days (depending on the weather), where they are sorted again for defects, turned regularly, and protected from rain and the midday sun by covers until they reach around 11% humidity. This ensures both even drying and the removal of any damaged or ‘funny looking’ beans. They then move to final dry-milling and hand-sorting at the cooperative’s dry mill in Kigali.
Lots are usually 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 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 4th April and the grade is A1. This simple but effective practice is a crucial tool in controlling quality and ensuring the traceability of lots.
With a lovely balance of sweet and bright, this coffee brings juicy clementines backed up by silky butterscotch and milk chocolate. Finishing with sweet lemon, that citrus hit keeps going with a lingering lime.