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.
Kamina Coffee Washing Station is in central Nyamasheke at 1800 meters, about as high as processing occurs anywhere in Rwanda. And many of its contributing farmers are higher still. The station has a great capacity, even for Nyamasheke which is known for larger processing sites (Kamina’s depulper is a honking multi-disc McKinnon model, used mostly in Kenya, which has a capacity of 3 tonnes per hour and also sorts freshly-pulped parchment by density in its built-in flotation channels). Coffee is hand-picked by local farmers and brought to the station daily for inspection. Once accepted, depulped, and sorted, Kamina’s processing team dry-ferments the coffee, and then washes it thoroughly in a long sorting channel flushed with running water, which doubles as a final density sorting technique. Finally, the washed and density-sorted parchment is soaked in a final tank, also with fresh groundwater, and then moved to raised beds where it will spend 2-3 weeks in drying rotation, all overseen by Kamina’s staff. Kamina’s coffee has won numerous awards in Rwanda’s Cup of Excellence competition; with its natural endowments, experience, rigorous processing standards, and exuberantly sweet coffee, this is really no surprise.
Kamina is one of Rwanda’s oldest washing stations, originally founded in 2003. 2 decades may seem like nothing compared to other regions, but centralized infrastructure for fully washing coffees is that new to Rwanda. Most of Rwanda’s washing stations in the western province came to be during the late 2000’s, thanks to one of East Africa’s most successful coffee interventions, the Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda Through Linkages (PEARL). Decades before, coffee was originally forced upon remote communities by the Belgians as a colony-funding cash crop. The Belgians distributed varieties cultivated by the French on Île de Bourbon (now Reunion Island, near Madagascar) but had so little invested in coffee’s success that they immediately allowed it to decline through lack of investment in both infrastructure and the farmers who grew it. As a result, the sector suffered near total obscurity in the coffee world from Rwanda’s independence in 1962 until the period of rebuilding following the country’s devastating civil war and astonishingly tragic genocide in 1994.
PEARL was a sweeping infrastructure and education investment targeting large regions of Rwanda whose coffee was for the most part processed poorly at home and exported with little traceability. The program, designed and led by the University of Michigan, Texas A&M and a host of Rwandan organizations, vastly increased processing hygiene by building washing stations. It also organized remote and under-resourced smallholders into cooperative businesses capable of specialty partnerships. Perhaps most significantly for the long term, it took the legacy bourbon genetics buried in abandon and polished them anew to the amazement of coffee drinkers everywhere.
So, Kamina’s construction was a very early processing model for the Nyamasheke district, and the greater country as a whole. Now of course, Rwanda, one of the most rapidly modernizing countries on the African continent, has built steadily on top of those first coffees made possible by PEARL and leader stations like Kamina. We as buyers now have an awe-inspiring reference for how snappy, mouth-watering, and kaleidoscopic the bourbon lineage can be.