Bumbogo was the best fastest selling of all our Rwandan coffees this last year. The profile of the coffee is really buttery, sweet and overall easy on the palette. There isn't a huge acidity, not a world of complexity, but just solid, balanced, sweet coffee. We were able to visit Bumbogo on Friday and see the amazing faces the have a hand in the coffee produced there.
The original goal for the day was to tour Shyira, Vunga and Bumbogo as they're not so far from eachother, in the Northern area of Rwanda, but due to heavy rains, a flat tire and then windshield wiper blades that decided to fall completely off, we were slowed down heavily. We'll now tour Shyira and Vunga tomorrow after a morning of cupping.
The team here was really thrilled to see us. They sung and danced and welcomed us in a very traditional Rwandese fashion. We tried to dance with them and even sing a little, but we'll save those videos for the private archives.
Bumbogo has just started its second season of production simply two weeks ago. They purchase cherries from farmers who deliver in their region of Gakenke, and the altitude of those farms range from 1600m - 2100m. Bumbogo itself sits at 1650m nestled in an area surrounded by hills. It's a scenic site, just like almost everywhere else in Rwanda.
The geographic location for coffee is really important for quality. The altitude that Bumbogo sits is rather cool through the day, it gets some shade from the hills and shortened hours of sunlight - all important for the coffee when drying. The temperatures range from the high 20's during the day this time of year to low-mid 10's at night. So a nice range between the climactic conditions, again assisting in the drying of coffee. The average drying time for a washed coffee here is 25 days, which as a coffee buyer, I love. This tends to lead to more stablility and shelflife when the green coffee arrives in our warehouse. As an example of this, you can try the Rwandan coffees currently on our menu. They're no longer 'fresh crop', which we classify as 6-8 months after harvest, but they still show vibrant flavors and receive cupping scores of 85-87 points weekly, about 1, maybe 2 points down from when they first arrived. A perfect case of slow drying extending the life of green coffee.
Bumbogo has a really nice practice with their coffee production. As a matter of fact, all the stations we work with here in Rwanda have a similar structure to this; farmers will drop off their daily pickings and will have the weights marked down in a register. This register will summarize all of the coffee they deliver throughout the season and will track the expenses owed at the end of the season. Our partners Muraho Trading Co found after their first season when they paid cash on delivery, that farmers would spend their cash on beer or banana wine and rarely would that money go back to their families. That obviously wasn't sustainable, so they offered the farmers a different deal. Instead of cash up front - which Muraho offers the highest price per kilo in the country by the way - they have provided year round health insurance for the family of the farmers, and now pay for the cherry at the end of the season in a lump sum during the 'end of year celebration'. At this celebration, they also pay premium bonuses to the farmers who constantly deliver quality cherries. We were told that the farmers weren't thrilled with this deal at first, but now they're huge fans and overall more farmers are coming to deliver cherries to these stations! Amazing. How's that for community impact and sustainable practices.
They have four floating tanks that cherries go into right after their received. Floating ensures that only the ripe, fully developed cherries that sink to the bottom will make it through to the high grade coffee lots. These sinkers are the ones with proper ripeness and fully developed beans and mucilage inside, thus why they sink! The 'perfect' cherries go into a big receiving tank that gets funneled into a Pinhal Maquina depulper that's manufacturer in Brazil. It's honestly not the sexiest looking machine but it does a great job and there isn't a need to change it for now - perhaps with increased volumes that might change. The pulps get removes and the coffee seeds go into a fermentation tank. Then, they do a technique called ikinimba, which is a song and dance conducted on top of the these seeds. The idea is to kick start the fermentation process by activating the sugars and getting them moving. I believe this adds an aromatic and buttery quality to the coffee, totally unique to Rwanda! Have you ever seen wine producers dance and sing while they stomp the grapes? It's kind of like that.
After ikinimba, fermentation occurs overnight. Naturally occuring yeasts in the air begin to eat the sugars and the proteins in the coffee cells and transfer them into acidic compounds, leading to more complex flavors, clean flavors and vibrancy. After 10-14 hours, they allow this batch of coffee to flow through the serpentine channels to be cleaned, and graded based on density. This is incredibly labor intensive - we had the opportunity to process a lot last year and we were huffing and puffing in no time. These channels are long, slightly angled and winding, so gravity, the flow of water and people-power sort push the coffee into different stages of the channel, isolating different sizes and density of beans. The first to flow out is A3, the lightest of them all, then A2, A1- and A1+ is the last. These all go to their own seperate drying beds where they'll be hand sorted and turned for the next 25 or so days.
You can tell there's a lot of moving parts in the operation of Bumbogo and truly any coffee washing station. It's important to have team leaders at every stage. The manager of the station, Fidel, has appointed a leader to receiving, processing, handpicking, drying, storage and a machine operator. Similar to any small business, it's critical to empower people and give responsibility and trust the job they'll conduct. I'm not sure the exact number of employees at Bumbogo, but there must be well over 100. You're welcome to count them in my selfie below. I was given the spotlight by Emmanuel, one of the owners and a visionary of Rwandan coffee, to give a 'speech' for the team at Bumbogo. As nerve wracking as it was, I thanked them for their hard work, their passion and the quality of coffee they produce. I told them it was a best seller on our menu and that Canada has loved the coffee of Bumbogo. They're a really special group filled with smiles, songs and dance, and they produce a really special coffee which I personally can't wait to get back on the menu!