This special micro-lot was produced by 76 female farmers who grow coffee on small farms in the hills surrounding Karambi washing station, located in the Kigoma Sector of Huye District, in Rwanda’s Southern Province. The women are members of the Koakaka Cooperative, who own and manage Karambi along with two other nearby washing stations.
Most washing stations in Rwanda receive cherry from hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of farmers who own very small plots of land. Separation of such tiny lots is expensive and impractical, so the large majority of coffees are processed as a mixed lot from multiple producers. Typically, lots are separated as day lots (ie. cherries that were all picked on the same day) rather than by a single farm or producer group.
Recently the women of Kigarama Village (a small farming community that delivers fresh cherry to Karambi) banded together and made the decision to process and market their coffee as their own. They named their association Rwamweru, which is one of the six zones that Koakaka operates within. The Rwamweru group of female coffee producers provide each other with invaluable support and resources and rely upon each other for farming and financial advice.
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 KARAMBI WASHING STATION
This coffee was processed at Karambi washing station, which was established in 2003. It is a relatively small washing station for Rwanda, servicing about 441 local cooperative members who farm locally. The washing station sits in the high, rugged mountains of Rwanda’s Southern Province. Quality control and day to day operations are overseen by Joie Claire Murekatete, who is an experienced agronomist and also part of Koakaka’s management team. She is one of eleven full-time staff members employed by the cooperative. During the season this number grows to about 130 staff members, most of whom are women employed to sort coffee during the drying stages.
The area around Karambi washing station has ideal growing conditions for high-quality coffee, with high elevations, good rainfall and steady, cool temperatures year round. The farms that deliver to Karambi are situated between 1,685 and 1,870 meters above sea level and are typically very small – averaging just a quarter of a hectare, or between 300-600 coffee trees. Coffee is grown as a cash crop, alongside subsistence food crops like maize, beans and sorghum and some livestock like goats and chickens. Cows are also an important asset to a farming family. Besides having practical advantages – like providing milk and yoghurt to feed the family, producing excellent manure for the coffee farms, and being an opportunity for additional income – they are also a traditional symbol of wealth and status in Rwanda.
ABOUT THE KOAKAKA COOPERATIVE
In the local Kinyarwanda language, ‘Koakaka’ means ‘Coffee Growers of Karaba’, referencing the town where the cooperative is based. Koakaka was established in 2002 when three farmer associations (Karama, Kiyamakara and Rukondo) merged together. The cooperative now owns and operates three washing stations; Karambi, in the Huye District, and Muganza and Gaseke, both in Nyamagabe District.
Koakaka has consistently been recognised for its exceptional quality, including numerous Cup of Excellence awards in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015. In July 2016 the farmers of Koakaka Karambi also won the Rwashoscco Coffee Excellence Award, taking home 1st place with a brilliant score of 90.3.
In 2019 the cooperative also built a dry mill, Koakaka Coffee Dry Mill, located in Nyamagabe District. This dry mill represents a significant and commendable investment, as it allows the cooperative more control over quality from the beginning of the process (when fresh cherry is delivered to the washing stations) all the way through to export.
Koakaka is a member-owned cooperative, made up of 1,358 small-scale coffee producers, 339 of whom are women. Coffee is grown alongside other subsistence food crops such as maize, sorghum and beans. By becoming members of Koakaka, these farmers are able to process their cherries centrally and combine their small, individual harvest into volumes that are large enough for export.
Koakaka’s mission is simple:
To produce exceptional coffee
To consistently improve the welfare of members and increase jobs in order to reduce unemployment and poverty in the region
To actively protect the environment
In an effort to continuously assist members to improve the yield and quality of their coffees, the cooperative provides agronomy training and access to discounted fertilisers and organic pesticides. Members are also given access to a number of services, including financial support for school fees and health services and loan facilities for home loans and farming equipment.
Koakaka Cooperative is managed by Safari Bonaventure, who has held this position since 2010. He is supported by Joie Claire Muraketete, who is the Head Agronomist and oversees quality control and production. Since 2004 the cooperative has been Fairtrade certified and more recently has become UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certified. They are also members of IWCA, The International Women’s Coffee Alliance.
HOW THIS COFFEE WAS PROCESSED
This coffee was processed using the washed processing method at the Karambi Washing Station, using clean, natural spring water from the surrounding mountains. The team at Karambi are meticulous in their approach to processing, to ensure the highest coffee quality possible is achieved.
Members of the Koakaka Cooperative are trained to only select the very ripest coffee cherries from their trees. During the harvest, cherries are delivered daily to the Karambi Washing Station via foot, bicycle or driven by truck from a local pick-up point (they have 70 pick points in the surrounding area).
On delivery, the cherries are inspected and sorted to ensure only the very ripest cherries are processed. They are then sorted by weight (and any floaters removed) and pulped on the same day—almost always in the evening—using a mechanical pulper that divides the beans into three grades. After pulping the coffee is fermented overnight in tiled tanks (for 12 -18 hours) without water and then graded again using floatation channels that sort the coffee by weight (heaviest usually being the best).
The beans are then soaked in clean water for a further 14 hours, before being moved to raised screens for ‘wet-sorting’ by hand—this is a task almost always carried out by women.
The sorted beans are finally dried in the sun on raised screens (‘African beds’) for two weeks. During this period, the coffee is turned several times a day by hand to ensure the coffee dries evenly and consistently. It is also sorted constantly, with any defects removed.
Once dry, the coffee beans are stored in parchment, in carefully labelled day lots, until they are ready for milling and export. The coffee is then sent to Kigali, from where it is milled, loaded, and shipped.
WHY WE LOVE IT
Coffees from Huye District are characterised by heavy sweetness and juicy character. We’re excited to purchase coffee from Rwamweru for the first time and to support the women of Kigarama Village. We love this coffee for its distinct flavour profile, with greengage plum, thyme and toasted almond in the cup.
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