Mbilima Women’s Coffee Organic

  • Country
    Rwanda
  • Province
    Northern Province
  • District
    Gakenke District
  • Sector
    Coko Sector
  • Variety
    Red Bourbon
  • Processing
    Fully Washed
  • Washing Station
    Mbilima
  • Washing Station Altitude
    2,020m above sea level
  • Owner
    Dukunde Kawa
  • Farmers
    115 female cooperative members
  • Dukunde Kawa Awards
    Cup of Excellence 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018

Strawberries and cream, with cherry, condensed milk and white blossoms balanced by cocoa and rooibos tea. Great intensity and complexity.

This special 900 kg micro-lot was produced by female farmers who own and grow coffee on small farms in the hills surrounding Mbilima washing station, located in the Coko Sector of Gakenke District, in Rwanda’s rugged and mountainous Northern Province. The women are members of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, who own and manage Mbilima along with two other nearby washing stations.

Recently the women of Mbilima banded together and made the decision to process and market their coffees as their own. The women are part of the Rambagira Kawa Cooperative, a smaller group within Dukunde Kawa that was formed by female coffee producers to share support and resources with each other. Many of the founding members were widowed by the 1994 genocide and relied upon each other for farming and financial advice. The group is now open to all of the female members of Dukunde Kawa and has grown to 289 members.

To distinguish their coffee and ensure it is processed separately, the women have organised to deliver cherry to the washing station on certain days of the week. Selling their coffee as a separate lot allows the women to directly benefit from any higher prices paid specifically for their coffees (rather than these profits being shared equally amongst all members) and results in a higher income to support their families. This creates an effective incentive for the women to work as a collective towards achieving the very best quality, and we think the results are evident in the complex and clean cup profile of these coffees!

ABOUT MBILIMA WASHING STATION

At a staggering elevation of 2,020 metres above sea level, Mbilima is one of Rwanda’s highest washing stations. The area surrounding the washing station has mineral-rich soil and a lush environment that is well suited to specialty coffee production. The washing station was established in 2005 and services about 459 Dukunde Kawa cooperative members who live and grow coffee locally.

 

Typically, farms in this area are very small – averaging just a quarter of a hectare – and are situated between 1,800 to 2,100 meters above sea level. Coffee is grown as a cash crop, alongside subsistence food crops like maize, beans and sorghum and some livestock like goats, chickens and sometimes cows.

 

By Rwandan standards, Mbilima washing station is quite small, receiving cherry from only 459 local producers in the area. Three permanent staff and 51 seasonal workers are employed by the washing station – most of whom are women (pictured at the top of this page is one of these employees, Anitha Mukandamira).  Quality control and day-to-day operations at Mbilima are overseen by John Bosco Habimana, who has been the washing station’s manager since 2012.

Mbilima has recently become 100% organic, Rainforest Alliance certified, UTZ certified, and Fair Trade certified. John Bosco explained that becoming certified has been extremely useful in formalising and documenting a lot of things that the cooperative was already doing. “It has helped us to better the lives of our producers and quality of our coffee. It’s been a lot of work to get the certifications,” he explained, “but it also made us realise how many positive things we were already doing. The certifications reinforce this.” 

Head here to learn more about the work of Dukunde Kawa in Rwanda.

PROCESSING AT MBILIMA WASHING STATION

The team at Dukunde Kawa takes a huge amount of care in processing its coffee. All members of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative are trained to only select ripe coffee cherries from their trees.

  • On delivery the cherries are inspected and sorted by hand to ensure only the very ripest cherries are processed. They are then sorted by weight (and any floaters are removed) by a Pinhalense machine that the washing station staff affectionately have named the ‘Umupolisi’ (police person). They are then pulped on the same day – usually in the evening – using a mechanical pulper that divides the beans into three grades by weight, with the heaviest, A1, usually having the highest cup quality.
  • After pulping, the coffee is fermented overnight for around 12–18 hours and then graded again using floatation channels that sort the coffee by weight. The beans are then soaked for a further 24 hours, before being moved to raised screens for ‘wet sorting’ by hand.
  • As with most washing stations in Rwanda, women do the majority of hand-sorting. This takes place in two stages – on the covered pre-drying tables and on the drying tables. Washed beans are moved from the wet fermentation tanks onto the pre-drying tables, where they are intensively sorted under shade for around six hours. The idea is that greens (unripe beans) are still visible when the beans are damp, while the roofs over the tables protect the beans from the direct sunlight.
  • Next, the beans are moved onto the washing station’s extensive raised drying tables (‘African beds’) for around two weeks, 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 defective beans. During this period the coffee is also turned several times a day by hand to ensure the coffee dries evenly and consistently.
  • After reaching 11% humidity, the coffee is then transported to Dukunde Kawa’s purpose-built warehouse prior to final dry-milling and hand sorting at the cooperative’s dry mill.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Coffees from this area are sweet and complex, with exceptional character. We love supporting the women of Mbilima washing station by featuring their coffee as a separate lot. This year’s lot has great intensity and complexity, with strawberries and cream and cocoa notes.

We feel so lucky to work with Dukunde Kawa. When we first started working with the cooperative over a decade ago, the president at the time, Anastase Minani, explained that their goal was to be the very best cooperative in Rwanda. We think they’re well on their way to achieving this goal, and we are excited to have been able to share this journey with them.