Motherland Farms Washing Station

My journey to Rwanda in June was an eye opener in many ways. None more so than my first visit to a washing station where I got the chance to see how the process works first hand and connect all the dots that I have read about and talked about so much. This was my journey to Motherland Farms.

The trip to the washing station began with one of the steepest dirt roads I’ve ever driven up. Sweeping from side to side to avoid the plethora of potholes we drove. Crawling up the hill in our four by four we passed two men pushing an ancient rusty bicycle carrying goods to the village at the top of the hill, a 20 minute climb away. We passed the village of Kamiro and continued up until finally arriving in at Motherland Farms. 

Situated high on a crest of rolling hills sits Motherland at 1820 meters above sea level. Overlooking a fertile valley in the Nyaruziza sector, Motherland is truly an idyllic place. The entrance area has a row of raised African beds made from wooden poles and a black woven mesh for receiving coffee cherries from approximately 1000 farmers in the surrounding area. Here on the raised beds the cherries are laid out for the first step of sorting. On the bed the cherries are hand sorted to remove any visibly unripe or over ripe fruit. Then the cherries are weighed in a small, tin roofed shed adjacent to raised beds where notes are taken on the origin of the coffee cherries and the farmer. This small shed houses a set of scales and a small desk where records are kept on all arriving cherries. This shed also contains the next step in processing of the cherry; the flotation tank. 

‘Situated high on a crest of rolling hills sits Motherland at 1820 meters above sea level. Overlooking a fertile valley in the Nyaruziza sector, Motherland is truly an idyllic place.’ 

Once the cherries have been weighed they are then emptied into a large concrete tank that holds around 10,000 liters of water. In this tank the ripe cherries sink to the bottom and unripe cherries float and are easily skimmed off the surface. The remaining cherries at the bottom of the tank then flow through a valve and gradually down a channel to the pulper. The machine used on Motherland is a Penagos Eco Pulper, which acts to remove the skin, flesh and mucilage from the bean. From here the beans are then fed into fermentation tanks that are filled with clean water and soaked for eight hours. 




After this period of anaerobic fermentation the beans are then moved into a density-grading channel that snakes down the hill on a slight downward gradient. Higher density beans are considered to have greater complexity and sweetness. Here the beans are scrubbed and agitated with sticks and brushes to remove any remaining mucilage to stop any further fermentation of the beans. To separate beans by density, a steady stream of water flows down the channel and wooden blocks create mini dams in the channel. The denser beans sink to the bottom and the lighter ones continue down the dam. Through this process the beans are separated into three categories. The lightest beans are considered the lowest grade and are moved straight to drying tables to be sold locally within Rwanda. The two higher grades of denser beans are moved to covered drying tables of raised African beds.


At this stage of the processing the coffee bean is referred to as parchment coffee which refers to the thin outer skin that incases the bean. The parchment coffee will remain this way until reaching the dry mill at a much later stage. Once the parchment coffee has been moved to the covered drying tables, the next stage of hand sorting begins. Some defects are only visible whilst the parchment is wet so this is a critical time for hand sorters to remove defects.

By Tane Welton