Rwandan Micro Mill 2011 (Stumptown Coffee Roasters)

While spending time recently with our sourcing partners in Kigali, Rwanda, I shared a bag of our Costa Rica Marvin Robles and explained his operation: front yard beneficio. They became excited and said that they knew a man with a similar operation. The Rwandese Marvin Robles.

Shortly after writing about this event, I had the chance to visit this enigmatic man and his mill, which he’s named Huye Mountain Coffee, in South Butare. David Rubanzangabo was the head agronomist of SPREAD before turning his attention to building his own mill. The SPREAD project helped improve farm production and harvesting in the area. They also built and managed washing stations and cupping labs. While the rest of Rwanda, and most of Africa, centrally processes their cherry (farmers bring and sell their cherry to a washing station) David built his own mill to process his cherry himself. He even built his own depulper in the style of a McKinnon (a disc depulper with agitated density separation after depulping).

Delivery on bicycle by hired pickers is common in Rwanda, with the load strapped to the bicycle wherever it fits. It feels good knowing that many of the bicycles were made possible by the efforts of Stumptown in conjunction with Bikes to Rwanda. The bags of coffee cherry are immediately unloaded and spread on the ground for sorting, ensuring only the ripest cherries are processed.

Much of the beauty of David’s coffee is derived from the intelligence of his processing method. From the depulper, the pergamino passes through a concrete channel which simultaneously washes the coffee and provides an opportunity for further separation. David uses this separation to remove floating pergamino which can include some under ripe coffee and coffee that has been infected with the potato defect. Since the potato defect can ruin even the most elegant coffees, any attempt to remove as many infected beans as possible is critical.

His typical process is 12 hours fermentation, followed by a wash and then soaked for 15 hours. The coffee is pre-dried under lots of shade while bad parchment is removed. This is a crucial step, as the integrity of the parchment is critical to the proper drying and quality, and a slow initial drying in shade improves this. Also, this provides yet another chance to remove the potato defect since it appears more easily while moist and in shade.

David is fortunate to have a sister, Rachel, who roasts and cups for him. Rachel previously cupped with SPREAD and was even partly trained by our own Duane Sorenson, as well as other international cuppers. Rachel checks the quality of the lots coming off the drying tables and can relay her results back to David and the mill which encourages continual improvements to the quality based on the cup characteristics and quality. Aleco has known Rachel for years, and is stoked to have her helping out David, as we know that we can rely on David’s quality to be nothing short of awesome.

We cupped with Rachel, and also pulled some fresh parchment samples from the warehouse to cup in Kigali. The results were promising. Most of the samples were creamy, displayed lots of brown sugar, dark fruits like black cherry and even some floral finishes that evoked lavender. Aleco wasted no time reaching an agreement with David and both parties are very excited about the relationship.

It will be some time before we see fresh coffee from Rwanda, including David’s. But despite the small crop in Rwanda this year, so far the results are looking very positive for Stumptown and our producers in Rwanda.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters

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