Rebuilding with coffee

The story behind one of our favourite Rwandan coffee producers is one of triumph over adversity for Epiphanie Mukashyaka, a widow of the Rwandan genocide and civil war of 1994. Epiphanie took on her husband’s farm with little knowledge and built it into something remarkable.

Today, the washing stations she built process coffee cherries from as many as 7000 small farms in the Bufundo region of Rwanda, but back in 2000 the situation wasn’t so certain.

So here’s how Epiphanie went from catastrophe to sending coffee lovers in the UK some of the best coffees we’ve ever tasted.

Epiphanie on a farm

Where did she start?

Initially, Epiphanie used the small amount she had earned from her own coffee cherries to buy cherries from other farmers in the region. By bringing them together, she ensured they got the best price possible. What was a reassuring start, hit hard times when the commodity coffee market hit an all time low.

For many years, she struggled to maintain her business in the Rwandan market, before finding hope in PEARL (Partnership to Enhance Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages). PEARL’s goal was to help Rwanda rebuild after the genocide and civil war. Their director, Tim Shilling, mentored Epiphanie, showing her ways to improve the quality of her coffee, which opened her up to the speciality market, allowing her to earn more for higher quality.

“I came up with the idea to build this, and nothing was going to stop me” - Epiphanie, 2003.

And then what happened?

From there, she used that knowledge to train and develop her fellow Rwandan farmers through her newly formed company, Bufcoffee. She used a loan from the Rwandan Development Bank to lay the foundations for the building of her own washing station, Nyarusiza (recognise that name?) to further engage local farmers and get them the best prices for their best beans.

With the opening of her second washing station, Remera, in 2007, she’s now the biggest employer in her community and pays higher average wages.

But how does the coffee taste?

Her coffees have won several prestigious awards, including the Golden Cup in 2007, and Cup of Excellence in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014. Ngara Nyarusiza even won a Great Taste award in 2018! Our Head of Coffee, Will, had this to say about Ngara Nyarusiza:

“I’m a big fan of the complex honey sweetness I get when I taste this coffee. It’s the same kind of sweetness that I tend to fall in love with immediately. When you combine that with the blackberry flavours and elegant acidity and it reminds me strongly of field-ripened fruit.” - Will, Head of Coffee at Pact

Wrapping up

So, Bufcoffee Ltd. not only produces and exports superb, award-winning coffee, it also empowers 4,608 women and coffee farmers socially and economically. Through training and by sharing information on how to increase coffee yield, they’re able to impact the local community immensely. This year, Bufcoffee is a building a roastery and a warehouse to expand its market and sell to domestic and regional markets.

We take great pride in working and trading directly with people like Epiphanie, and having a direct and tangible link with the people that produce the coffee. We share the same ideology: pay more for better quality, and treat people with dignity. We hope you enjoy the coffee all the more for knowing a bit about who produces it!

Update from our Head of Coffee:

As far as I’m concerned, being Head of Coffee is a pretty sweet gig. If you’re into travel, coffee cupping and sharing hidden coffee gems with your fellow coffee-lovers, you’d probably enjoy it as much as I do. But - bragging aside - one of my favourite things about my job is getting to know the farmers we work with.

Recently, on a trip to Rwanda, I was reunited with one of my all-time favourites. Epiphanie Mukashyaka is hands-down one of the most inspiring, down-to-earth people on the specialty coffee scene. The beans she produces approach the divine and the story of how she came to be where she is now is certainly one that’s worth telling.

As well as inspiring countless women across Rwanda, Epiphanie has been an incredible role-model to her own daughters; two of Epiphanie’s daughters now own their own export businesses, whilst another has recently become the supervisor at the family’s newest washing station. Epiphanie’s son, Sam has also gone into the family business and now oversees the day to day management of Bufcoffee, which is currently expanding into neighbouring provinces of Rwanda, leaving Epiphanie to concentrate on her real passion…

She may have been crowned Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government but Epiphanie has never forgotten where she came from. Spending time with her means lots of travel and lots of getting your hands dirty. Following her prayers each morning, Epiphanie busies herself checking on the night’s coffee deliveries and ensuring that everything is running smoothly with processing. Then she likes nothing more than calling on each of the Bufcoffee washing stations, working closely with coffee producers on ways they can improve both the quality and quantity of the cherries they produce.

Basically she never stops. And she’s not some enthusiastic amateur, her coffees have won several prestigious awards, including the Golden Cup in 2007, and Cup of Excellence in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014. I’m really proud to be able to call Epiphanie a friend and to be able to bring her coffees to the Pact menu. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

By Will Corby