Blackberry, Molasses and Redcurrant
The Long Miles Project, founded by Ben and Kristy Carlson, opened its doors in 2013 and aims to raise the bar of specialty coffees coming out of Burundi. The project works with more than 4.500 individual coffee farmers living near two central washing stations, Bukeye, opened in 2013 and Heza, from 2014. There are several reasons why producing speciality coffee in Burundi is an incredibly difficult task. There’s the incredibly unstable political situation, where government can change rules on coffee prices and production seemingly overnight, the geographical constraints, that come with being a small landlocked country attempting to export coffee by sea freight, the constant threat of military coup. But through it all the Carlson family have managed to establish themselves as producers and exporters of consistently delicious coffees, all the while providing some semblance of stability to the lives of smallholder farmers that surround their two washing stations in the northern Kayanza Province, near the border with Rwanda.
This year has been a particularly difficult one in Burundi. Yields on trees are down, and a flare-up in the political situation led to logistical difficulties, both for farmers taking cherry to processing stations, and for projects like Long Miles transporting processed coffee out of the country. This lot was processed at Long Miles’ Heza station, but is made up of coffee grown on the Nzove hill, a little further from the station, in the Gatara commune to the North. Due to the very low yields, the Long Miles team had to cast their net slightly further afield this year when searching for high quality cherry to process at their stations. Heza employs around 300 people, including over 100 women devoted to quality control in the final parchment sorting process. Heza also helps local farmers by supplying trees from a coffee tree nursery with over 15,000 seedlings, and the intention is to plant these all over the war-torn Burundi countryside in years to come.
Then Heza station has recently begun to produce naturally processed coffees, a relatively new phenomenon in Burundi. As there are less opportunities for sorting during processing when compared to a washed process, the incoming cherry has to be of very high quality. Coffees destined for natural processing are first painstakingly hand sorted by the team at Heza, as once the cherries begin to dry and blacken, it is very difficult to spot any defective seeds. After sorting, the cherries are transferred to raised drying beds and dried slowly for around 30 days, allowing a rounder jammy flavour to reveal itself, reminiscent of blackberry jam, followed by wild tropical fruit and the characteristic Burundian rooibos notes shining through in the finish.
If we don’t feel that a coffee suits our style or what we like to present, we simply won’t buy it. Sometimes this leads to issues in green buying; we have to pay very close attention, to a level of green quality that will support this approach, and to how this will develop over the life of a coffee. We are required to focus heavily on the freshness of coffee, both green and roasted, to avoid introducing taints into our cups. We always use clean and fresh water, of an ideal mineral content to present the coffee in its best possible light. Once we have the correct roasting profile, water, and coffee age, the act of brewing is much more simple. A wide variance in brewing parameters can still produce delicious and transparent cups. It is also important to note that this is not always the most consistent approach. The coffee is laid completely bare, so any flaw with the raw material is clearly on show. We could often develop some coffees slightly more, to make them more approachable or easy to work with, but wavering from our philosophy like this would compromise our commitment to complete transparency in coffee.
|Producer||The Long Miles Coffee Project|
The natural, or dry process, is the traditional process, going back generations. When accomplished in a controlled and careful manner, dry processed coffees can produce flavour experiences not found in wet processed coffees, deep fruits and florals, normally with heavier mouthfeel and lower acidity. The cherries are first sorted, and then laid out on in thin layers (2-6 cm) on raised drying beds. These are almost always used for high quality naturals, as they aid airflow around the coffee as it dries, enabling more even drying. It is very important that coffees are sorted very carefully early on in the drying process, as all of the cherries quickly turn dark brown, making it impossible to separate under and overripe cherries. The cherries are turned frequently to avoid mold formation or over-fermentation, until they reach a moisture content of below 20%, and the outer cherry layer shrinks and blackens. This process takes between 2 and 4 weeks, depending on weather conditions.