Rwanda - Mahembe Murundo - Raised Bed Washed

Producer: 400 producers organized around the Murundo Coffee Washing Station

Region: Mahembe Sector, Nyamasheke District, Western Province, Rwanda

Elevation: 1,700-1,800 meters above sea level

Process: Raised Bed Washed

Varietal: Local bourbon varieties

Coffee Story*

One of this year’s suite of coffees from the boutique Kivubelt group in western Rwanda, PF is an outturn from the Murundo Coffee Washing Station (CWS), one of two processing sites the Kivubelt company operates. “PF” in Kivubelt’s nomenclature refers to “People Farm”, another term for smallholder coffee growers and the households they support. 

Kivubelt was established in 2011 by Furaha Umwizeye, after returning to Rwanda with a master’s degree in economics from Switzerland. Born and raised in Rwanda, Umwizeye’s goal with Kivubelt is to create a model coffee plantation, as sustainable in agriculture as it is impactful in local employment and empowerment. The company began with 200 scattered acres of farmland in Gihombo, a community in Rwanda’s coffee-famous Nyamasheke district that runs along the breathtaking central shoreline of Lake Kivu. 

Under Umwizey’s leadership, Kivubelt has planted 90,000 coffee trees on their estates, which now employ more than 400 people during harvest months and is a kind of coffee vocational school for local smallholders interested in improving their farming. Kivubelt has also acquired two washing stations, Murundo and Jarama, which combined not only process coffee from the company’s estates, but also that of more than 500 smallholders in the region, offering quality premiums and training programs for participating farming families. Lot 1 from Murundo CWS was picked across March, April, and May by the station’s participating 400 local smallholders. 

The Nyamasheke district in Rwanda is gifted in terroir. The cool, humid climates of both Lake Kivu and the Nyungwe Forest National Park keep groundwater abundant throughout the uniquely hilly region. Kivu itself is part of the East African Rift whose consistent drift creates volcanic seepage from the lake’s bottom and enriches the surrounding soils. Coffees from this region are often jammier and heavier than in the rest of the country. Murundo’s coffees in particular are full of complex sugars, currant-like acids, blackberry and spice flavors, and round, soft textures. 

The history of coffee in Rwanda is complex, at times tragic, at others triumphant. Commercial arabica coffee cultivation was introduced to the region under German colonial influence as early as 1905. After WWI the Belgians had replaced the Germans, and by 1927 were “aggressively promoting coffee production.” In 1931 they formally legitimized its forced cultivation. After independence and civil war in the early 1960s, coffee had become Rwanda’s primary source of foreign currency.  

Overreliance on coffee caused a massive crisis with devastating consequences in the years following 1989’s dissolution of the International Coffee Agreement and resulting devaluation of the crop on global markets. Faced with a cratering economy, a foreign-backed military incursion, and sparked by the death of the country’s president and the president of Burundi when their plane was shot down over Kigali, civil war and violence once again beset the country in April of 1994. Atrocities were enacted asymmetrically along ethno-political lines. 800,000 people died in less than 100 days.  

In the wake of such violence there’s little that can be said that somehow doesn’t cheapen or diminish the unmitigated tragedy of the loss of life. Yet if there’s a motif that can be held as hope in such circumstances, it’s the resilience of humanity. In the case of Rwanda, its revival happened to be aided, somewhat unexpectedly, by the very crop which had catalyzed its crisis: coffee.  

Interest in the coffee sector both locally and internationally has helped propel the country into a coffee renaissance. Rwanda, one of the most rapidly modernizing countries on the continent, has rebuilt a quality-focused coffee industry by investing in training and infrastructure, and we as buyers now have an awe-inspiring reference for how snappy, mouth-watering, and kaleidoscopic the Bourbon lineage can be. Kivubelt is one example of focused entrepreneurship aimed at a very specific landscape. 

*written by Charlie Habegger and Chris Kornman - Royal Coffee