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This month we are sharing two coffees from Salum Ramadhan in Burundi, the fifth time we have purchased from his mills in the Kayanza region.
It has been a difficult year in Burundi, with both political and climatic forces creating a very low yield for our producer partners.
As a very rural and agriculturally reliant nation, this drop in yield is somewhat of a crisis, and has prompted a government response.
The first coffee is a classic bright washed coffee from Salum’s Mbirizi washing station in Kayanza with crisp fresh fruit notes, and a herbal rooibos finish.
The second coffee is a naturally processed coffee from the Sehe station, Salum’s only station further west in the Cibitoke province. A softer jammy character takes over, with a rich butterscotch sweetness.
This month we are getting started with our 2020 sourcing ventures. Our founder Esben has just returned from a trip to Ethiopia, spending time at the wet mills owned by our partners at Moplaco, in Yirgacheffe, Kochere and Sidamo. He also visited Moplaco’s own farm Kawo Kamina in the region of Sheka which was one of many highlights of a beautiful trip.
We were very impressed by the lush and varied landscape, and the hard work put in by Moplaco and their employees throughout the country, and look forward to our continuing collaboration. We also met with Adam, one of the founders of the Gesha Village project. Experimental processes and organised separation of each varietal and lot on the farm leds to a varied and delicious expression of what coffee can be. We look forward to secure some of the lots from this year’s harvest soon.
We are also preparing for our trip to Central America, visiting our partners at Exclusive Coffees in Costa Rica, Primavera in Guatemala, and Los Pirineos and Finca Santa Rosa in El Salvador. These trips are always inspiring, seeing the varied setups and systems in each country, and tasting the fresh harvest coffees from some of our longest standing partners, like Mauricio Vindas at Altos in Tarrazu. This year, we also hope to visit the coffee growing lands of Mexico for the first time, and assess some lots, especially to be part of our fledgling organic coffee range.
Photo by Long Miles Coffee
A difficult year in Burundi
This month we are excited to present the first of our fresh purchases from one of our favourite origins, Burundi. We have been purchasing from Burundi for some years now, and have sought to better understand this somewhat turbulent small nation. Burundi is a very rural country, with only 13% of the population living in urban areas. Of this rural population, many are smallholder farmers, mainly subsistence with a small production of cash crops, such as coffee. The average coffee farmer here has between 250 and 300 trees spread over around a hectare, with coffee as the only cash crop, grown alongside food crops for the family. The vast majority of the work on the farm is undertaken by the family themselves, and they are most likely to live on the farmland. As agricultural exports account for approximately 50% of the country’s GDP and employs 90% of the population, keeping these crops healthy and exports flowing is vital to the country’s ongoing situation.
Photo by Long Miles Coffee
Burundi, a Belgian colony until its independence in 1962, has long been a somewhat unstable nation. Similar ethnic tensions to those observed in Rwanda, between Hutu and Tutsi groups, have led to huge unrest and continual political regime change, human rights abuses and often outright civil war. All of this has left little room for development, leaving Burundi as one of the world’s poorest nations. With this as a backdrop, 2019 was an especially difficult harvest in Burundi. Both adverse climatic conditions, and bubbling political unrest contributed to this. The controversial Burundian government, the subject of an attempted coup in 2015, have sought ever greater control over the country’s vital coffee exports, establishing the ARFIC regulatory authority in 2008. The difficulty of recent years has led to the exit of many western organisations from Burundi, partly down to ever tighter controls from ARFIC making it much harder for westerners with interests in agriculture to enter the country.
This has led to much less specialty coffee being exported from Burundi this year. Yields were down on the trees, and unstable political conditions led to difficulties with transport and export. As Burundi is a landlocked country, coffee often needs to travel great distances by road to make it to port. One Burundian with great experience of this field is Salum Ramadhan, from whom we have purchased coffee several times. Salum started his own trucking business as a young man, and through this saw a lot of coffee moving through the country, and grew an interest in the industry from here. Salum now owns 4 processing stations throughout northern Burundi: Buziraguhindwa, Mbirizi, Shembati and most recently Sehe. From the start, Salum made quality a focus at every stage in the chain, from working with smallholder farmers around the stations, through fermentation and drying, to ensuring quality and separation at the dry milling stage before export. Salum pays around double the government set price for cherry, but expects much better sorting and uniformity of ripeness than most other stations in the area. He also invests in quality at the stations, building floating channels for sorting underdeveloped cherries, and covered raised beds in order to better control drying time in the strong Burundian sun. The stations are also impressively clean, well maintained and keep strict lot separation and records of these. We hope that by fostering relationships with and continuing to support our Burundian partners, like Salum and our friends at the Long Miles Coffee Project, we can at least be a small part of securing the future of Burundian speciality coffee production.
1st coffee - Burundi
Mbirizi - Washed Bourbon
Raspberry, Brown Sugar and Rooibos
(250g / 8.8oz)
The Mbirizi station is located in Kayanza, a region we have purchased many coffees from in the past. Here Salum has invested in infrastructure, creating cherry collection points for those farmers who don’t have easy access to one of the stations, investing in community education projects, and starting environmental projects such as ponds to stop waste water from the stations entering drinking water supplies. When the cherries arrive at the station, they are first hand sorted to ensure uniformity and remove defects. The cherries are floated in channels to remove low density and underdeveloped cherries, before depulping and a further grading based on density. The depulped coffee is first fermented without water. Due to the low temperatures at the station, it can take up to 16 hours to sufficiently break down the sticky mucilage layer to allow it to be washed off in another set of channels. The coffee is again separated into density grades through these channels, before a final fermentation under water for up to 20 hours. This double fermentation, with both a dry and wet fermentation, is similar to that employed in Kenya, and not only provides a distinct character and control over the final cup, but many opportunities for sorting and catching defects. When employed by a quality focussed and organised operation such as Salum’s, this means consistent and clean cups. In this lot from Mbirizi, we are finding a classic bright washed Burundi profile, with fresh raspberry balanced by brown sugar sweetness, and those characteristic slightly herbal notes of rooibos tea in the finish.
2nd coffee - Burundi
Sehe - Natural Bourbon
Blackberry, Peach and Butterscotch
(250g / 8.8oz)
The Sehe washing station is located in the province of Cibitoke, about 100 km west of the Kayanza, where the rest of Salum’s mills are concentrated. Cibitoke is located near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, while Kayanza lies to the northeast, nearer to Rwanda. The very high altitude here, around 2200 masl, create very slow maturing cherries rich in sugars and acidity. Salum’s stations have become known as pioneers of natural and honey processed coffees in Burundi, a country traditionally known for clean and bright washed coffees. Normally they produce natural coffees when the quality of cherry being delivered is high, as there are less opportunities for sorting during processing, and these coffees are expected to make up high-quality microlots. The separation and control we see throughout Salum’s operation is also obvious here. The incoming cherry is split into lots based on the hill on which it was grown, and these are kept separate and tracked through the entire process, creating many small and traceable day lots to cup. Coffees destined for natural processing are first painstakingly hand sorted, and floated to sort for density. Once the cherries begin to dry and blacken, it is very difficult to sort for defects, so it is vital that sorting is done to a high standard at this point. The coffee is initially dried in rather thin layers, to reach a lower moisture content quickly and avoid issues with mold and over-fermentation. Salum has found that this creates a brighter profile, maintaining more of the distinct Burundi character we know from the washed coffees. After this, the layers are built up slowly, and the coffees are turned often to aid even drying. This particular lot is a wilder take on a Burundi natural, with softer jammy and stone fruit character, and heavy rich butterscotch notes, while still holding onto some of the floral and herbaceous notes we recognise in Burundian coffees.
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Available from the 31st of January to the 27th of Feburay
An unstable year in an unstable country has led to low yields and difficulty with export. Fortunately, the quality is as high as ever, and we hope that continuing to support our partners in the region can help them in providing some stability to the smallholder farmers that they serve. Burundian coffees are full of character, and can be incredibly diverse; innovative producers like Salum are only cementing this reputation with a focus on quality throughout the production process. We hope that you enjoy his team’s work this month; two lots that showcase very different and very delicious expressions of Burundian coffee.
Stay bright and curious - John Gibson
Two Unique Coffees Every Month
La Cabra is a modern coffee roastery based out of Aarhus and Copenhagen, Denmark. Every month we ship out two unique coffee experiences and provide insight into how these coffees were grown and processed by talented producers.