We've featured many coffees, but none quite so special to us as this one. It was Flight Coffee who first introduced us to Vunga when it first came to New Zealand, they inspired us with the story of how the producers had received a bonus payment for quality and this was the very first coffee story we ever shared, person to person, before The Snobby Collective was born.
Since then we've sampled every harvest of Vunga to make to our shores, from a variety of roasters including our friends at Vanguard Coffee Co. Vunga co-op holds a very special place for us as our favourite producer, so we jumped at the chance to feature Vunga with our old mates Flight Coffee and build upon the stories of Muraho Trading Company and Raw Material.
This month we've pulled together an extended feature below our typical three segments, including previous stories, links to Muraho Trading Company and Raw Material.
RWANDA – A COFFEE OVERVIEW:
Coffee production in Rwanda can be traced back to 1904, with exports beginning in 1917. Like many developing nations, coffee provides critical export revenue to Rwanda, In 2009 coffee exports equated to 36% of Rwandas export earnings. These earnings generated from a humble 16,000 tons of coffee, a quantity that pales in comparison to African neighbour Uganda to the north who exported 3.5 million tons the same year. Despite over a century of coffee production, Rwandan producers are hampered by a number of factors including pests, disease, lack of access to credit, low international prices, poor infrastructure in rural areas. Prior to the 1991 liberalisation of the coffee sector, exports had been handled with great governmental influence. The relaxing of regulation resulted in greater competition through more individuals and cooperatives being active in the marketplace, this resulted in higher profits, more job opportunities, adoption of more modern farming practices and higher incomes for producers. The operation of cooperatives also resulted in improvement in processing, improvement of living condition, and training opportunities, not to mention better quality coffee. As the majority of coffee is grown by small lot holders, the benefits of central washing stations also provide valuable infrastructure.
VUNGA CO-OPERATIVE CWS:
Nestled between the steep hills, amongst plantations of Bananas and plantain trees, near the border of Uganda and the democratic republic of Congo, is Vunga CWS (Coffee Washing Station). Established in 2009, this small (260 member), woman led cooperative has become a well-known and highly regarded producer, despite being located in Nyabihu district, a part of Rwanda that doesn’t produce much coffee. Operated by 5 full time employees processing 160 - 230 metric tons of coffee per year, Vunga is blessed with a natural fresh water source originating in Virunga national park, crucial to a station that produces only washed processed coffees. Like many marginalised producers, Vunga once lacked key infrastructure, such as traditional serpentine grading channels, although such setbacks didn’t stop them producing exceptional coffee. In the absence of serpentine channels, pulped beans were placed into fermentation tanks before being rinsed and laid out to dry. Lots produced with this method saw them placing 4th in the Rwanda cup of excellence in 2014. Aside from the operation of the CWS, Vunga Co-operative Also produces 35% of the coffee it processes on land owned It owns, with the remainder produced by members, who are predominantly made up of small lot holders cultivating between 100-200 coffee trees alongside maize, bean and banana crops. Due to land shortages, over half the population in Nyabihu district having a land holding of less than 0.3 hectares, in spite of this 74% of the population rely upon working the land for their income.
PARTNERSHIPS AND BENEFITS:
Despite being well-established and having developed a good reputation, Vunga CWS lacked infrastructure and therefore efficiency when they first partnered with Muraho Trading Co in 2017, something that Muraho sought to improve. Through partnership with Coffee social enterprise, Raw Material, Muraho helped Vunga Co-Op increase quality, resulting in higher prices being paid while helping reach new markets. The result was a record breaking year for Vunga, key infrastructure built as a result of money being able to be saved, a total of 6 million Rwandan Francs being saved and reinvested into infrastructure from the profits. Muraho Trading Co financed a further 6 million Francs, allowing the construction of serpentine grading channels, fermentation tanks and doubling the number of drying tables and increasing dry storage. A total of approx $18,000usd was able to be reinvested thanks to the partnership, Raw Material paid a premium of $0.35usd/kg of green coffee which resulted in 2 million Rwandan Francs ($2400usd before tax) in 2017. Alongside these improvements to infrastructure, members benefited from second bonus payments and health insurance. We are very blessed to have sampled this harvest and it was this premium that lead to us telling these stories. Nyabihu district was sadly devastated by the worst landslides and flooding seen in a lifetime on May 7th 2020, resulting in the loss of 28 lives, more than 325 homes and countless lives affected. As part of our ongoing commitment to the relief effort we have donated $1 from every subscription this month. If you would like to donate, please head to https://www.gofundme.com/f/Rwandan-landslide
Producer: Vunga CWS
Altitude: 1650 – 2000 MASL
Varietal/Species: Red Bourbon
Tasting notes: Orange Sugar Cane Kola Nut
15g coffee: 250g water
45g bloom (with a stir) for 30 seconds
Pour the remaining water over the next 60 seconds
Give the V-60 a gentle swirl and tap down
Total brew time: 2:30 – 2:45
Aeropress: Inverted method
26g coffee 125ml Hendon water (one of the Barista Hustle brew water recipes)
Stir rest for 1:15 press down over 30 seconds
Decant, Top up to 220ml - taste and adjust.
The Producer: Muraho Trading Company
Founded by two brothers who were raised to call Rwanda home. Born from the desire to showcase Rwandan specialty coffee to the world, Muraho Trading company was established in the Nyamashehe district with the construction of the Kilimbi washing station in March 2016. But MTC is much more than just specialty coffee, they are about the people, family and the country that has given them so much. In just over four short years, the Muraho family has grown to operate 6 washing stations located in three districts of Rwanda. In the Nyamashehe district are Rugali, Kilimbi and Gisheke. Located in Nyabihu district, operates Vunga and the famed station in the sky, Shyira. The baby of the family, Shyira boasts the accolade of being the highest known station in Rwanda located at 1850 M.A.S.L . Bumbogo, located in the highly regarded region of Gakene region is owned by close partners Neza trading co and do they know how to party, the atmosphere is electric. (check it out on the MTC instagram, there really ain’t no party like a Bumbogo party. The combined MTC family of over 4500 farmers, with their 21 full-time staff produce 1960-2330 metric tonnes of coffee each year. Taken from our May 2020 Collaboration with Viking Coffee Roasters
Words by Richard Corney – Director – Raw Material
Raw Material and Muraho Trading Company began working together in 2016. Founded by Karthick and Gaudam Anbalagan, MTCo is the leading producer of specialty coffee in Rwanda. Raw Material provides market access for the majority of MTCo’s production all over the world. Working with Raw Material, MTCo was the first to produce and export, with special permission from the Rwandan National Agricultural Export Board, honey and natural processed coffee. Previously the production of these coffees was outlawed but with guaranteed value add production processes, MTCo led the way for introducing these new and unique flavor profiles from Rwanda to the world. Information and knowledge sharing has been a key foundation of the relationship. Miguel from Raw Material Colombia has traveled to Rwanda, likewise, Gaudam has traveled to Colombia to share ideas and collaborate. As well as working on innovative and new processing techniques, there are other groundbreaking collaborations underway. MTCo share the same altruistic values as Raw Material. Consistently paying producers on average 30% above the market rate for their cherry, they also invest in their casual labour teams and into the communities where their stations are located. Taken from our May 2020 Collaboration with Viking Coffee Roasters
Raw Material, the definition of basic commodities bought and sold on exchanges world wide; It is also the given name of the social enterprise started by Wellingtons’ Flight Coffee.
The realm of Raw Material encompasses all aspects of coffee from growing to exporting with involvement in all the
steps between, including the sharing of vital knowledge throughout the value chain.
The social conscience that originally fueled Flight Coffee to ensure that their coffee was having a positive
impact on lives at farm level, evolved into a larger, global operation whose ethics and values are as alive and well
now as they were then; Operating community projects in Colombia, working closely with partner producers in
Rwanda and since 2015, have been a small but dedicated contributor to work carried out in Myanmar.
Their dedication and commitment to understanding the the challenges and helping producers over come them by
connecting producers and roasters sees them reaching out to other countries where small changes will yield big results. Taken from our March 2019 Collaboration with Awaroa Coffee