One of our coffee roasters is currently at Rwamatamu washing station in Rwanda.
Last year, you may remember, Ludwika spent 6 weeks at Migoti Hill in Burundi where she worked in their cupping lab assisting with lot selection and learning all about the vital work of a cupping lab at a washing station and bringing her own cupping and roasting skills to the table. Earlier this year, we met Bernice and Luke from Rwamatamu Coffee when they visited Edinburgh and when we learned they were in the process of setting up their cupping lab at the station we offered for Ludwika to go work alongside them for a couple of weeks. Obviously this is such an incredible learning experience for her, but we in turn hope we can contribute the perspective of their customers/coffee buyers to the mix to benefit the work of their washing station lab.
Ludwika has sent us an update of what she has been up to the first week.
By Ludwika Kopczynska
I arrived in Kigali on Saturday night and spent my first night in Rwanda at the home of Bernice and Luke who had invited me to come and work with them at their family owned washing station Rwamatamu. We spent half of Sunday in Kigali and then traveled the 5-6 hours up to Rwamatamu on Sunday afternoon.
I found out that station was started by Bernice's parents, Mr and Mrs Rutaganda, 15 years ago and this year they are planning to transfer it to Luke and Bernice. Last year (2022) was first time they exported coffee thanks to their relationship with Omwani Coffee, the importer through whom we were introduced. Prior to the relationship with Omwani, they sold their coffee to export companies but then they didn't know where it ended up.
The cupping lab
As Bernice is 7+ months pregnant, it was me Luke and her dad who travelled up to the station this week. They had only one visitor before me (for 3 days only) and the lab is still in the process of being set up. They also only just got the huller 2 days before my arrival so everything is very new.
Our first day was spent learning how to hull samples and creating a good routine for the cupping lab. The coffee sample needs to be pulled out of the warehouse, hulled, sorted for screen size, sorted for defects, weighed out, labeled and then sample roasted. It takes a lot of time and because most of those tasks are new for everyone it also takes a lot of learning how to do things efficiently.
Next we did some training on cupping protocols. Most of the team (except for me, Luke and the manager) are new to cupping. We tried some dry fruits I brought from UK and some essential oils for references of tastes used in the flavour wheel that are unfamiliar.
We spent the rest of the week practicing these skills and getting familiar with the routines of the lab. Water and electricity supply are not a given so there are interruptions of trying to fix problems with those.
We are staying in Bernice's dad house that is about a 25min drive from the station so every morning we drive up to the station, cup, prepare samples for next day, go back to the house for lunch and return in the afternoon to continue.
The main goal is to 'design lots’ as we did last year in Migoti but also to train as many people as possible so they can independently continue that task after I leave. Sadly we have realised that 2 weeks isn't long enough to finish designing all of the lots.
On Wednesday we visited the local market.
The washing station
The coffee season is almost finished, so there are few drying tables still full and very few women left working on them.
During the season there are up to 200 women working at the station, and currently there are less than 10.
We drove back to Kigali on Friday afternoon.
The weekend - time away from the lab!
I spent Saturday with Bernice's brother Papi and we took the opportunity to visit a few coffee shops in Kigali!
We also went to the Genocide Memorial Museum which was a life changing experience and hard to describe in words. Although many are now too young to have experienced the genocide, all live with the consequences of it and the trauma can still be felt.
On Sunday Bernice and Luke lent us their car with a driver so Papi and I left Kigali at 4am to travel to Akagera National Park ( a 4+ hours drive). The length of travel left us a lot of time for talking. He asked the meaning of my name and we discovered that I am "greater warrior" traveling with "King" ( his name’s loose translation)! We had very good philosophical conversations about life and find that we are quite similar. I really enjoyed my time spent with Papi. Although he is 24 he described him self as an old man inside and I see his point. I hope he appreciates that trait in himself. He definitely is a thinker and we had such a memorable trip in the safari park.
Back to the lab
On Monday we returned to the lab at the washing station and found everyone working so hard and in such an organised fashion. They prepared many samples without us being there so we could cup them together straight after our arrival.
Honestly I had to take a moment because the amount of progress which has been made in one week made me cry. When I arrived here a week ago I doubted it was possible to set up a cupping lab from scratch in two weeks but I was wrong beyond imagination. Just this morning as I'm writing this I arrived and found out that everything has been done. Samples are weighed out and Leonie was waiting for us to arrive to start grinding them. All I had left to do was sit down and drink coffee while waiting for cupping to be ready.
Looking forward to week 2!