What We're Drinking Now: Rwanda Huye Mountain

Jan 25, 2017

Though its high elevation and mineral-rich soil makes it prime real estate for growing coffee, Rwanda has a very young specialty coffee-producing economy. In recent years, coffees from Rwanda are increasingly found on menus and in air pots in coffee shops across the world. This sea change of this coffee growing region is due, in part, to people like the dynamic agronomist David Rubanzangabo, who is at the heart of Rwanda Huye Mountain, located in the city of Butare in Southern Rwanda.

We first met David several years ago through PEARL (Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages). The PEARL project helps educate and prepare Rwandan farmers to produce high quality coffee that commands top prices, helping to reduce poverty among smallholder farmers. At that time David’s focus with the project was to help to design and place hundreds of coffee washing stations in key locations throughout the region.

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After the PEARL project ended, David founded Huye Mountain, where he now processes coffee from about 500 surrounding area farms with a washing station he built behind his house.

While David and Huye Mountain have a large community impact, Huye is still very much a family affair. David’s sister Rachel is the head cupper and is in charge of quality control. She sample roasts the coffee and cups individual lots, helping to continuously improve the quality of the coffee. Jean Bosco, a former tennis coach, runs the the Quality Analysis lab. Bosco actually moved to Portland in 2006 and worked for Stumptown as a roaster for a few years. In addition to running the Huye Mountain lab Bosco is a star cupper with a pristine palate.

The farmers who deliver coffee to the Huye Mountain washing station cultivate their Bourbon variety coffee in the mountain highlands within the Huye, Maraba, Mbazi and Kigoma sectors of the Huye District, with producer groups that represent the farmers in each sector. Huye selects only the finest beans from farmers in this notoriously rich region.

Every year, Stumptown pays a social premium to Huye Mountain beyond the contracted coffee price. From that social premium, David rewards each of the producer groups that deliver to the washing station with different perks that improve their quality of life. This year the incentive for the farmers who contributed to this lot of Huye Mountain is a goat which will provide added food security.

Early on in this region, one of the main initial hurdles for the production of specialty coffee was the lack of water, an essential element in the washed coffee process. Back in 2013 Stumptown worked with David to help fund a water irrigation station. The benefits from this project were astounding – not only did it allow David to wash process an incredible coffee (that we anxiously look forward to every year), it also brought access to drinking water to the people of the community, who had previously walked over 2 kilometers to collect it for drinking and cooking.

Sidenote: The James Beard-nominated A Film About Coffee features this project with Huye Mountain, and is well-worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.

On our most recent trip, we experienced David’s latest addition to his enterprise: a walking tour he designed to elevate coffee tourism in Butare. He bought 3 hectares which he uses as his training garden plot and coffee museum, outlining the elements of growing and production. The tour culminates in a hike with prime views of Mount Huye and a sweet monument to the coffee tree. The entire project continues to be an enormous success story and one we’re very proud to take part in year after year. Not only is the coffee extraordinary but so is David’s work.

David is seen as a true leader in the community and does significant work with gender training in the region. Over 60% of the farmers here are women and David encourages many of the women to be the owners of the coffee and manage the money they are paid for their work instead of turning it over to their husbands.

Several times during our trip, we overhead farmers calling out hellos to him, saying “Hi Boss,” to which he’d respond, “We’re all the boss. This is ours.”

Learn more about Rwanda Huye Mountain coffee.

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