PRODUCER: VARIOUS SMALLHOLDER FARMERS
REGION: KANAYZA DISTRICT
ALTITUDE: 1,600M ABOVE SEA LEVEL
VARIETALS: BOURBON, JACKSON, MIBIRIZI
PROCESSING METHOD: WASHED
TASTING NOTES: FLORAL AND RED APPLE NOTES BUT IT IS THE BODY OF THE COFFEE THAT REALLY STANDS OUT WITH NOTES OF SPICE AND DRY COCOA.
Burundi is a small landlocked country at the crossroads of East and Central Africa, straddling the crest of the Nile-Congo watershed. Sandwiched between Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, Burundi has beautiful Lake Tanganyika for much of its western border.
It has an ideal terrain for coffee, with growing regions dispersed in the central and northern areas. Burundi is dominated by hills and mountains, with considerable altitude variation, from the lowest point being the lake at 772 meters above sea level to the top of Mount Heha at 2670 meters.
Coffee cultivation is an entirely smallholder farmer activity with over 700,000 families directly involved in coffee farming. Their combined total acreage is roughly 60,000 hectares in the whole country and planted with about 25 million coffee trees.
Like Rwanda, Burundi is primarily planted in Bourbon, which is grown at high altitudes ranging from 1250 to 2000 meters. Also like Rwanda, smallholder farmers of Burundi tend to about 50 to 250 trees. Historically, coffee from the area was sold as bulked “Ngoma Mild” coffee (Ngoma is a traditional drum). The farmers would bring their coffee to local washing stations, which along with 20-30 other wet mills, made up the Sogestal. All the coffee collected from the Sogestal members would be blended, and separating qualities was not possible.
Depending on the leadership and management at the stations, both private and state-run, the attention to detail in the processing makes a big difference, with meticulous sorting, fermenting, and washing necessary to create quality and uniformity among the coffee. The typical processing method in Burundi is similar somewhat to Kenya, with a “dry fermentation” of roughly 12 hours after depulping, followed by a soak of 12–14 hours in mountain water. Coffees are floated to sort for density, then soaked again for 12–18 hours before being dried in parchment on raised beds.
Several years ago, the coffee market was “liberalized”. This meant that individual washing stations could now keep coffees separate, and then market the individual lots to buyers by station, “day lots”, or processing batches. With this comes the new possibility to find gems that were formerly mixed in with the not-so-good lots. So new possibilities are emerging in Burundi, and it is an origin to pay attention to.
While the logistics of buying coffees from Burundi are extremely challenging, we love the heavy figgy, fruity, and lively coffees we find here—they remind us of a Malbec, with a firm support of acidity.
Roast date: Jan 11th