Region: Kamonyi District, Gacurabwenge Sector, Southern Province
Owner: Buf Coffee
Altitude: 1,550 – 1,700 metres above sea level
Variety: Red Bourbon
Awards: Cup of Excellence 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
Creamy, balanced and beautifully structured. Stone fruit, blackberries and raspberry.
About Ubumwe (with thanks to Melbourne Coffee Merchants):
This 100% Red Bourbon coffee was processed at Ubumwe washing station, which sits at 1,650 metres above sea level in the Kamonyi District in Rwanda’s , Gacurabwenge sector. Ubumwe washing station is privately owned by the wonderful Epiphanie Mukashyaka of Buf Coffee and her family, who we have been buying from since 2009.
ABOUT BUF COFFEE
Buf Coffee was founded in 2000 by Epiphanie Mukashyaka, a dynamic business woman and a source of inspiration to countless other female entrepreneurs in Rwanda’s coffee sector and beyond. Buf is now managed by Mukashyaka – known to all as Epiphanie – and her son, Samuel Muhirwa, who has taken an active role in running and expanding the business. The name ‘Buf’ derives from ‘Bufundu’, the former name of the region in which its washing stations are located.
Epiphanie lost her husband, a child, and many extended family members in the horrific genocide in 1994. She was faced with the responsibility of caring for her seven surviving children and rebuilding their life. With a limited education and little money or support, Epiphanie, whose husband was a coffee farmer, decided to focus on coffee. She set about rebuilding and developing a business, and with it the local community. She started to learn more about speciality coffee with the assistance of the USAID-financed Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL) project, a transformational program aimed at switching the focus of the Rwandan coffee sector from an historic emphasis on quantity to one of quality, and thus opening up Rwanda to the far higher-earning specialty coffee market. The program and its successor, Sustaining Partnerships to Enhance Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness Development (SPREAD), have been invaluable in helping Rwanda’s small-scale coffee farmers rebuild their production in the wake of the genocide, and the world coffee crash, of the 1990s.
Epiphanie went on to establish Buf Coffee, and decided to build a washing station with the help of the PEARL programme and a loan from the Rwandan Development Bank. “I came up with the idea to build this,” she says, “and nothing was going to stop me.” She established Remera washing station in 2003 and Nyarusiza in 2005, and was the first woman in Rwanda to hold a privately owned company and produce specialty coffee. Her aim with the washing stations was to improve the quality of coffee by shifting the focus from producing commercial coffee to producing high quality specialty coffee. In doing so, she aimed to add value to her processed coffee in order to secure higher and more stable prices for coffee farmers in the region. As a result, she not only improved the livelihood of her family, but also improved those of her neighbour farmers and wider community directly by increasing their income (through the higher prices paid for their cherry) and indirectly by bringing important services like safe water and electricity to their villages via the establishment of washing stations.
Today Buf Coffee buys coffee cherries from as many as 7,000 smallholder farmers and has very strong links with the local communities that supply it, providing jobs for hundreds of locals during peak harvest (May–June/July) as well as nearly 50 permanent positions year-round.
Buf Coffee’s exceptional quality has been recognised year after year. It was awarded a prize in the 2007 Golden Cup and placed in the Cup of Excellence in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2015.
The majority of the small farmers that supply Buf Coffee in the area have an average of only 300 coffee trees each (less than a quarter of a hectare). They also use their land to cultivate crops like maize and beans to feed themselves and their families. Most of their income from the sale of coffee is used to send their children to school, pay for medical care, and for investment in livestock such as purchasing a cow for milk, which is then used at home and for sale locally.
Sam and Epiphanie care deeply about the communities they are connected to and have initiated many social projects that support farmers in improving their incomes and quality of life. In 2018 Buf partnered with the Rwandan Government’s One Cow per Poor Family program to distribute 500 cows across organised farmer groups within their supply chain over a five year period. Farmer groups nominate the member that should receive the cow with an expectation that the cow will eventually be bred, and its calves gifted to other members in the same group. This creates a positive and ongoing ripple effect within the community. Besides practical advantages like being an opportunity for additional income and providing dairy to feed the family and excellent manure for the coffee farms, cows are also a traditional symbol of wealth and status in Rwanda. By gifting a family with a cow Buf is not only providing farmers with a source of nutrition and alternative income to coffee, it also reinstates a sense of pride to the household (which most likely suffered devastating effects from the genocide).
In February of 2019 Buf opened a kindergarten next to their Nyarusiza coffee washing station, in Nyamagabe District, to service the children of local coffee farmers and washing station workers. While school is compulsory in Rwanda, kindergarten is not, and Sam noticed that many families weren’t able to work and supervise their small children during the busy coffee season. In partnership with Swedish coffee company Selector Coffee, Buf was able to open Umuvumu Kindergarten, which is headed up by principal Alexis Bikorimana and now has over 150 students aged between 3–6 years old. The children attend kindergarten from 7.30am–12pm, allowing their parents to put in a full morning’s work in the field or at Nyarusiza before picking them up. Tuition is free and the kids are currently provided with breakfast and will also be given lunch once the kitchen building and dining hall have been completed.
ABOUT UBUMWE WASHING STATION
Ubumwe washing station is located only 20 minutes far away from the capital city Kigali. Its first year of operation was in 2018, and it also has a brand new dry mill located on the property, which is used to process all of the coffee. Ubumwe is managed by Edoine Mugisha, who used to manage Nyarusiza. Edoine oversees all of the operations of both the wet and dry mill.
The Ubumwe region has very rich soil with high levels of phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and boron, which are necessary for coffee growth, promoting cherry ripeness and root development. Ubumwe receives cherries from approximately 500 farmers living at altitudes of 1,550m–1,700m.
HOW COFFEE IS PROCESSED BY BUF COFFEE
The ripe cherries are picked by hand and then delivered to the washing station either on foot, by bike, or by trucks that pick up cherries from various pick-up points in the area.
Before being pulped, the cherries are deposited into flotation tanks, where a net is used to skim off the floaters (less dense, lower grade cherries). The heavier cherries are then pulped the same day using a mechanical pulper that divides the beans into three grades by weight.
Coffee is delivered by foot or bike to the washing station. Trucks also go to remote pick up points to pick up cherry.
The beans (in parchment) are then dry-fermented (in a tank with no added water) overnight for 8–12 hours. They are then sorted again using grading channels; water is sent through the channels and the lighter (i.e. lower grade) beans are washed to the bottom, while the heavier cherries remain at the top of the channel.
The wet parchment is then soaked in water for around 24 hours, before being moved to pre-drying beds where they are intensively sorted for around six hours. This step is always done while the beans are still damp because the green (unripe) beans are easier to see. It is also always done in the shade to protect the beans from direct sunlight (which they have found helps to keep the parchment intact and therefore protects the bean better).
The sorted beans are finally moved onto raised African drying beds in the direct sun to dry slowly over 10–20 days. During this time the coffee is sorted carefully for defects and turned regularly to ensure the coffee dries evenly. It is also covered in the middle of the day when the sun is at its hottest.
Once at 11–12% humidity, the coffee (still in its parchment) is stored in the washing station’s warehouse in carefully labelled lots until it is ready for export. The coffee is then sent to Buf’s brand new dry mill, Ubumwe (built in 2017), to be dry-milled. Here the parchment is removed, and the beans are sorted again by hand and using machinery to remove any physical defects. This is done under the watchful eye of Edouine Mugisha, who has worked with Buf since 2011. Having control over the milling of the coffee means that Buf has greater control over the quality of sorting and processing from cherry delivery right through to export.
We have been working with Buf Coffee since 2009, and we feel privileged to work with such a dynamic, passionate, and committed family in Rwanda. We hope you enjoy this beautiful coffee.