Burundi coffee exudes an intriguing fruitiness, brightness and wild floral notes. But how much do you know about this East African coffee?
Burundi coffee exudes an intriguing fruitiness, brightness and wild floral notes. But how much do you know about this East African coffee?
Burundi may not be the first country you think about when it comes to specialty coffee. But in reality, Burundi coffee is a rising star in the specialty coffee world.
Burundi coffee beans are famous for their unique flavor profile and tasting notes, unlike any others in East and Central Africa.
I’ve wanted to explore Burundi coffees for a long time and I’m hyped to finally get the chance! Join me as I uncover the secrets behind these beans’ exceptional taste and the people and processes that make them so special.
A Brief History of Burundi Coffee
Burundi coffee reflects a journey from colonial control and civil war to a remarkable specialty coffee rejuvenation. This tale isn’t unique; it’s the story of many African coffee-producing countries.
Coffee cultivation started in the 1920s when Belgian colonists introduced the first Arabica bean coffee trees. The climate, fertile soils and high elevations proved ideal for coffee farming. By the 1930s, these pioneer plantations were flourishing.
At first, the coffee industry was not fair to indigenous farmers. Still, these first steps towards coffee cultivation would prove profitable in the future.
By the 1950s, coffee was Burundi’s major export. Upon gaining independence in July 1962, Burundi further expanded the export of its beans, mainly to Europe.
Fast-forward to the 1970s. The Burundi government reclaimed and nationalized the coffee industry. They encouraged farmers to form cooperatives to ensure easier processing and exports.
This approach was fundamental to farmers’ livelihoods. Why? Because unlike in other African countries, Burundi green coffee cultivation is almost entirely in the hands of small-scale farmers.
Unfortunately, political strife put a stop to the country’s coffee industry in the latter half of the 20th Century.As in its sister country, Rwanda, ethnic divisions between the Tutsi and Hutu led to political instability, culminating in a civil war between 1993 and 2005.
Farmers uprooted precious Arabica bean coffee trees during this time, replacing them with other crops to combat food insecurity. The results aren’t hard to imagine – a complete cessation of coffee farming and the almost complete collapse of the coffee industry.
But African countries are resilient, with Burundi proving to be no exception. And what a coffee renaissance it has been!
Burundi Coffee Production Today
Despite these historical challenges, Burundi began growing coffee for the specialty coffee market. The country concentrates more on bean quality and flavor than quantity.
On average, a smallholder grows between 50 and250 coffee trees, with over 800,000 smallholders holding 60,000 hectares under cultivation.
A perfect example of International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO) support is the Long Miles Project, the brainchild of Ben and Kristy Carlson. This coffee-loving couple helps farmers create micro-lots that yield excellent Burundi coffees. They also help to connect 5,500 Burundi farmers to international coffee roasters and markets.
The project promotes coffee farming best practices. For instance, their innovative Scouts Program has youth looking out for destructive coffee pests, such as borer beetles. Controlling these pests with organic pyrethrum to avoid potato defect is just one of their clever solutions!
Initiatives like these have paid off big time, and Burundi’s total exports of green coffee made the country tens of millions of dollars. Arabica coffee makes up the bulk of these exports. Most of these high-quality African beans end up in Germany, Sweden, the US, Kenya and Uganda.
Still, the coffee industry here faces significant challenges. Potato defect, coffee leaf rust and coffee berry disease are highly problematic. Furthermore, many farmersstruggle to use best practices. Unfortunately, some abandon their orchards altogether.
The results are evident — green coffee production dropped from 34,000 metric tons to a paltry 6,000 in 2022/2023.
Thankfully, in the past few years, joint government and NGO initiatives have helped farmers revive failing plantations by:
Supplying free seedlings
Improving soil quality
Managing trees for increased yields
Promoting sustainable and ethical farming
I hope these changes pay off. Burundi coffee beans are sublime and deserve more recognition worldwide. What a shame it would be to lose it all!
What Makes Burundi Coffee Special?
The thing Burundi coffee has going for it most is its mysterious exoticism. This coffee is an intriguing mix of delicate sweetness, rich body and wild floral-fruity notes.
The high altitude, mild climate and fertile volcanic soil all contribute to these complex and delightful flavors. These delicate beans include floral notes of jasmine and citrus, red and blueberry notes and hints of honey and black tea.
The dominant Arabica varietal is RedBourbon, famous for consistently garnering first-rate cupping scores. The beans are small and dense with concentrated complexity.
Moreover, Burundi beans grow slowly at high altitudes between 1,200 and 3,000 meters above sea level (masl). The result is an aromatic brew with high Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) ratings.
Incidentally, Robusta coffee hardly features in Burundi’s exports.
Burundi Coffee Growing Regions
Burundi lies in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa. It receives abundant, year-round rainfall and stable mean temperatures. This, coupled with the high elevations of its coffee-growing areas, make this African country ideal for coffee farming.
The coffee produced is Strictly High Grown (SHG) and Strictly Hard Bean (SHB).
Ranked 29th of the top producers worldwide, Burundi grows coffee in these five central growing regions:
Muyinga lies in northeastern Burundi, bordering Tanzania and Lake Tanganyika.
Coffee in this region thrives with abundant annual rainfall of 1,300 millimeters, rich soils and a mild, stable climate. The average growing altitude is 1,800 meters above sea level.
Muyinga beans have a characteristic sweet and chocolaty flavor profile. They also show slight bitter black tea flavors, oiliness and nuttiness. These qualities make them perfect as a dark roast for espresso, French press or cold brew coffee makers.
Bubanza, in northwestern Burundi, borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Like other regions, this coffee-growing area lies at high elevations, with plantations thriving at between 1,100 and 2,200 masl.
The temperatures are mild, not usually exceeding 89 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), and the average annual rainfall is 43 inches (1,091 millimeters).
The coffee beans here are mild, with fruity, delicate flavors. They are full of citrus, berry and pineapple undertones and feature a bright acidity. These Burundi beans will please even the most demanding light roast coffee enthusiasts.
Kirundo, in the northeast of Burundi, has relatively low yields compared to other regions. Most farms lie at 1,400 – 1,700 meters, with a yearly rainfall of around 43 inches (1,100 milliliters) and average temperatures of 62-70 degrees Fahrenheit (17-21 degrees Celsius).
These conditions produce coffees that meet the highest international cupping standards. In fact, at the 2015 Cup of Excellence competition, a single-origin coffee from this region scored 86.62 points.
The coffee here has a wild, floral flavor profile. It also shows complex fruity notes with hints of mysterious spice. You should enjoy this coffee as a medium-dark drip or espresso roast.
Gitega is at the very heart of Burundi and is a center for quality control before export. This mountainous area has average temperatures of 54-64 degrees Fahrenheit (12-18 degrees Celsius) and an annual rainfall of 28 inches (720 millimeters).
Coffee from this region is more decadent, with a sweeter flavor profile, and displays pronounced notes of melon, berry and citrus. Enjoy it with a medium to light roast profile, ideally using a drip coffee or pour-over coffee maker.
Buyenzi lies in northern Burundi, bordering Rwanda. It’s Burundi’s largest coffee-growing region. Buyenzi is also famous as the home of the country’s best coffee; specifically fully washed Burundi Ngozi and Kayanza.
Farms here are located at high elevations of between 1,700 and 2,000 masl. The average rainfall is 47 inches (1,200 milliliters), and temperatures range from 68-86 degrees Fahrenheit (20-30 degrees Celsius).
Coffee from this region has a fruitier flavor profile with high acidity. It’s bursting with pleasant citrus aromas – perfect for a light to medium roast drip or pour-over.
The quality of these coffees is no surprise; they easily outperform similar coffees from Central America. At the 2015 Cup of Excellence, a coffee from Ngozi scored 88.92 points, and another from Kayanza an impressive 91.09 points.
How Is Burundi Coffee Processed?
Burundi coffee from most farms is selectively harvested and then wet-processed (the washing and fermentation of coffee cherries). Washing stations here have strict quality control, producing coffee with a clean, crisp and vibrant flavor.
Farmers then soak the coffee in clear, mountain water piped into the washing station for another 12-14 hours. Next, they flush the beans through a channel that sorts them by density, before soaking them again for 12-18 hours. The denser the bean, the higher the quality.
This double-wash process does more than sort beans based on quality. It also removes the last traces of mucilage from the bean before the drying process can begin.
Coffee drying is an eco-friendly affair in Burundi. Farmers lay coffee beans on parchment-covered raised beds at the cooperative washing stations and let the sun do all the work. Frequent hand-turning of the beans ensures even drying and prevents fermentation and mold.
After drying, Burundi coffee beans go through the next step in the coffee chain – packaging and export or coffee roasting. What I like about these beans is that their packaging always states the washing station or region of origin, making establishing provenance a breeze.
Still, exporting coffee from here is a tough assignment. Burundi has no coastline and faces various logistical challenges exporting coffee. It can only ship its whole-bean coffee via the port of Mombasa (Kenya) or Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania).
Consequently, due to frequent delays, some beans lose their quality when roasted or dispatched for export.
With all this said, growing coffee in Burundi is a labor of love, and its sublime coffees have javaphiles clamoring for a taste!
How to Buy Burundi Coffee
Burundi coffee can be difficult to source, so start by researching reputable coffee roasters and suppliers that stock it.
Focus on buying from online coffee traders who value sustainability and ethical coffee production. In addition, look out for coffee producers with Fairtrade certification. You may also opt to attend coffee events or visit a specialty coffee shop near you.
Face-to-face purchases provide the perfect opportunity to buy your beans from reputable vendors. You can also ask important questions about sourcing policies, provenance (single-origin coffees or blends) and growing altitudes to ensure you brew the perfect cup of French press or pour-over.
I also recommend researching thevarying flavor profiles of Burundi coffees before you buy. It may surprise you just how much coffees from different sub-regions vary in flavor, acidity and body.
Think, too, about how you like your roasted coffee beans (the roast level). This determines whether a light roast, medium roast or dark roast will best suit your tastes.
Once you’ve got all these considerations figured out, you’re good to go! Be sure to check coffee roasting dates, shipping costs and delivery times, especially if ordering Burundi coffee beans online. This is essential to ensure you have fresher beans for longer.
How to Brew Burundi Coffee
Now, we come to the fun part: brewing Burundi coffee!
As you might know, African coffees are bright and lively, full of fruity, floral notes and high acidity. Burundi coffees are wet-processed – double-washed at that – preserving the beans’ original crisp characteristics.
As such, Burundi coffees, especially with light roast or medium roast profiles, lend themselves to preparation with a pour-over or drip coffee maker. I’d recommend these brewing methods over all others.
However, coffees from some growing regions like Muyinga may work well with immersion methods like French press or a cold brew coffee maker. Coffees brewed this way shine as a dark roast. Brewed right, the coffee bean surface oils impart a richer body and pleasant bitter taste.
Ultimately, how you brew your coffee depends on your taste preferences. The above guidelines will help you get the most from this sublime and intriguing East African coffee.
But the important thing is that you enjoy your Burundi coffee experience and savor its unique flavors.
Final Thoughts: The Lowdown on Burundi Coffee
The quality of Burundi coffee is a testament to a small nation’s pursuit of excellence. The country’s coffee exports are small compared to well-known African coffee giants like Ethiopia and Kenya. However, this small country is giving larger coffee producers quite a run for their money.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the incredible journey this exceptional coffee has taken from the heart of East Africa to your cup. Whether you’re a coffee expert or just getting started in the world of gourmet coffees, single-origin Burundi coffee will reveal flavors you’ve never tasted before!
What do you think of Burundi coffee? Have you ever tried beans from this African country? Tell our coffee-loving community all about it in the comments below!
Burundi Coffee FAQ
Burundi coffee, especially from Ngozi and Kayanza, is of very high quality. The coffee beans have a rich body, sweet and delicate flavor profile and a lively acidity. Occasionally, this African coffee bursts with wild floral and fruity blueberry notes with hints of citrus.
Burundi’s coffee grows in a country with a stable climate, abundant rainfall and volcanic soil full of nutrients. Red Bourbon is the main Arabica variety here, showing a rich and delicate sweetness. This wet-processed coffee has a cleaner, brighter taste.
Coffee from Burundi has a wild floral flavor profile with notes of citrus, berries and honey. It’s delicious and vibrant. What sets it apart from similar African coffees in the East and Central Africa region is its unique, subtle hints of blueberry, passionfruit and pineapple.
Arabica coffee came to Burundi with the Belgians in the 1920s. They established the first coffee estates, which expanded after independence in 1962. Most Burundi coffee farmers grow the Red Bourbon Arabica variety. A small percentage of farmers also grow Mibirizi, Kent, SL and Jackson sub-varieties and Robusta coffee.