Our final Rwandan release from the 2022 harvest is an annual staple from the Muzo washing station. This is our fourth year purchasing coffee from Muzo, and we continued our work with Sundog Trading and Baho Coffee focusing primarily on smaller lot separations. This specific offering consists of coffee from 11 smallholders that live nearest Gitabi Hill and deliver their coffee to Muzo.
The Muzo washing station is located in the Northern Province of Rwanda, near Volcanoes National Park and the border of Uganda. The lands surrounding Muzo, in the Gakenke district, are absolutely ideal for coffee growing – altitudes climbing above 2000 meters, dense volcanic soil, and very cool average temperatures. Because of the remote location, there are actually only a small handful of other stations near this area, and it is additionally Baho’s smallest station by far. For perspective, Emmanuel’s other stations produce anywhere from about 900 – 2000 60kg bags of green coffee per year; Muzo produces just around 300 bags. As one of the more intensely mountainous regions of Rwanda, many farmers are located in areas that make the journey to deliver cherry particularly strenuous. To assist people living in these highest altitude and hardest-to-travel places, Baho has established a free collection service for Muzo. Producers are still given full price for cherry, and Baho takes on the extra costs associated with a station leader driving around to collect coffee at people’s homes.
The Gitabi Hill offering is a part of Baho’s ongoing appellation project surrounding the Muzo. They’re focusing on smaller lot separations by processing groups of farmers’ coffee together based on the highest quality growing areas. The hills are often chosen based on altitude; coffees within the Gitabi Hill lot are all harvested from farms above 1900 masl and pack a distinct vibrancy and saturation of flavor.
Since these are new group that are forming around our cws [coffee washing station], based on what we think might be potential or unique in the zone, we are want make this model mutual benefit where farmers commit to what we are training them, commit to long and honest / loyal relationship with Baho and of course by focusing on both coffee quality and quantity. Then at the other side, Baho have responsibility of developing them, buying their cherries, marketing their coffee with full traceability and at the end, paying them highest possible price that will make them motivated and happy to grow coffee. we strongly believe that our strength is based on happy farmers that we work with.
As with all of our offerings from Baho, you can expect Muzo to present incredibly saturated, sweet, and complex flavors. The body is full and silky – think root beer, brown sugar, and gingerbread. Meanwhile, the acidity is lively and layered, showing off a plethora of fruit flavors like plum, fig, and lime. We’re tasting: blackberry, cherry, plum, orange, lime, fig, date, raisin, gingerbread, cinnamon roll, root beer, cola, brown sugar, baking spices, black tea.
This is our sixth consecutive year purchasing from Emmanuel Rusatira and his private exporting company, Baho Coffee. Our relationship has evolved into the closest 1000 Faces has come to a fully direct trade relationship. Our Director of Coffee formed his own company in 2019, Sundog Trading, and partnered with Emmanuel to begin importing coffees from Baho into North America. We’re excited to be early supporters of the project and can’t wait to see where this relationship takes us in the future.
After nearly 20 years of experience establishing and managing washing stations throughout Rwanda for a large export company, Emmanuel Rusatira and his family decided to branch out and start their own operations. Establishing Baho Coffee allowed him to freely focus his energy towards implementing his personal philosophies and pushing high quality protocols with his own privately owned stations. Emmanuel is impressively proactive with education and outreach. He works closely with producers year round – distributing seedlings, educating on proper growing and picking techniques, giving loans for infrastructure or quality of life investments, and generally being a positive force in the community and friend to all.
From Sundog Trading:
The Rwanda coffee sector is unique in that it’s extremely small, which means that it’s possible for buyers to have a serious impact on the entire market. With an average annual export of between 267,000 – 400,000 bags, Rwandese coffee is a drop in the bucket of world coffee production. For context – Costa Rica, considered the smallest producer in Central America, produces 1.6 million bags annually, and Colombia produces 15 – 18 million annually. Coffee represents 25% of Rwanda’s total export economy, meaning that the government’s efforts to make coffee a valuable sector for profit and employment generation has reaped huge benefits. The potential for impacting the overall economic well-being of the country is possible via coffee, but it must be optimized for that purpose. First and foremost, we believe that the profits must go to locals rather than major multinationals; and secondly, quality and prices must continue to increase.
We’re excited to be working with Baho Coffee for these very reasons. Emmanuel is one of a very small group of Rwandese people who are exporting their own coffee; this means that profits are remaining within the country and are being reinvested back into people. There is a deep level of commitment and respect between Emmanuel, his employees, and the farmers who deliver to Baho stations. Unlike many multinational companies, he is directly invested in the future of his own country. Working with and buying from Baho Coffee is meaningful to us in many ways; but at the heart of it all, we’re simply trying to support the Rwanda coffee sector by purchasing Rwandese coffee from Rwandese people. Through this, we’re able to serve as a transparent link connecting roasteries in North America to beautiful coffees from Rwanda.
Historically, coffee from the 950 farmers delivering to Fugi would have been grouped into large, station-level lots. Thanks to the increased traceability and smaller lot separations that Emmanuel has been able to establish, we’re thrilled to be able to publicly recognize the producers who grew the coffee that make up this offering. This is a first step in building a transparent and equitable relationship with groups of growers that we hope will deliver to Fugi for many years to come. Fugi Ikizere Washed is comprised of coffees grown, harvested, and processed by the following:
JEAN PAUL NTAWIYANGA
Coffee production in Rwanda works very similarly to most other countries in Africa – hundreds of smallholder farmers deliver cherry to centralized processing stations. At these stations, the coffees are fully processed and dried on raised beds. Upon time for export, parchment is transported to the capital city of Kigali where it is dry milled, further sorted, and prepped for export.
All coffee going through Baho stations starts with a day of intensive sorting at the cherry stage to ensure only the ripest are chosen and any visible defects are removed. Step two is multiple rounds of floating – filling a large container with cherries and water, discarding the less dense cherries that float to the top of the tank. The densest coffees are reserved to be processed as the higher grade lots, and the less dense coffees are mixed in with the rejected cherries from the initial sorting to be processed as lower grade lots.
When enough volume is collected, cherries are depulped, and the wet parchment undergoes an 14 hour dry fermentation before being pushed through the grading channels. Here the coffee is rigorously washed to remove any remaining mucilage and separated by density – with the highest density lots being reserved for our selections. The coffee is then submerged underwater and soaked for a final 8 – 10 hour period; this step is thought to both assist in ensuring all mucilage is removed and also homogenize moisture throughout the seeds for a more even drying process.
The drying protocol begins by moving coffee onto shaded beds for 12 – 72 hours, which is a unique step in Rwanda that has two distinct benefits. First, it sets the trajectory for the entire drying phase by initially beginning very gently and slowly under complete shade. Secondly, it allows ample time for intensive sorting while the parchment is still wet – this is important because certain defects (seeds bitten by Antestia in particular, thought to cause the potato defect) can be seen much more easily when the parchment is wet.
The parchment is finally moved into full sun on raised drying beds, where it’s very frequently turned until drying is complete. Weather conditions are closely monitored throughout the day, and if certain temperature thresholds are exceeded, workers will focus on turning coffee more frequently or cover the beds with mesh netting. When moisture content reaches the target of 10 – 11.0%, the drying phase is considered complete. The parchment is bagged and stored in a dry warehouse at Muzo until time for milling. Total drying time for this lot was 45 days.
The Potato Defect
This particular defect is known to be a natural occurrence in many central African coffees, particularly those from Rwanda. To quickly answer your first question – no, it actually has nothing to do with the root vegetable. It has acquired the name because coffee with this defect smells and tastes almost identically to raw potatoes! The cause of potato defect has long been a mystery for both scientists and the coffee industry as a whole; however, everyone is slowly beginning to come to a consensus – though, it’s admittedly still a bit confusing. The most cited theory attributes the potato flavor to a specific chemical in the pyrazine family. This chemical is produced by the plant as a byproduct of a unique airborne bacteria entering the seed; and most commonly, the seed is exposed because of a specific bug – Antestiopsis orbitalis (aka. Antestia) – that punctures the skin of the fruit. Once upon a time, it was so widespread that specialty coffee buyers would never have considered purchasing coffees from this area. Over the past decade, however, huge strides have been made by research institutes and coffee producers alike to reduce the occurrence. Though we may never be able to confirm that each lot is 100% free of the defect, meticulous processing has certainly minimized it’s frequency so that it is very rare. If you do come across the defect, you’ll almost certainly smell it coming. When grinding a coffee from Rwanda and you’re immediately hit with the distinct fragrance of a freshly peeled potato – don’t panic! If the defect is present, it will only be in certain seeds and not widespread throughout the entire bag. We promise. Simply toss those grinds in the trash, purge the grinder with a handful of fresh coffee, and try grinding/ brewing again! You’ll soon be rewarded with a beautifully sweet and complex cup of coffee that will make you forget all about that pesky potato.
This coffee extracts rather easily and there’s a lot of complex flavors available to play with. You’ll want to use a relatively coarse grind size for brewing, as this will help keep the coffee tasting bright, clean, and transparent. We like a 1:17 coffee to water ratio. This highlights Muzo’s vibrancy, shining a light on the fresher citric characteristics. Though, it’s worth noting that this coffee is super versatile! As you move the grind size finer and finer, you’ll notice the flavors shift towards dried fruit and more of a focus on deeper sweetness and fuller body.
If your brew tastes thin, lacking sweetness, and similar to under ripe citrus or raw nuts – try grinding finer.
If your brew tastes murky, lacking fruit flavor, and similar to oversteeped black tea – try grinding coarser.