About Burundi Nyamasaka Washing Station
Coffee in Burundi is mainly grown by smallholders who do not process it themselves but rather bring cherry that they grow to local washing stations. The best run stations pay more for quality cherry, meaning they are all fully ripe, well developed and brought rapidly so they can be immediately processed. Over time we have had coffee from numerous washing stations. This newest arrival is gathered by the Bumoco Society, a 'sogestal' or agent which works with two washing stations in the same community. This coffee is from the Nyamasaka washing station located in extreme norther Muyinga province near the Tanzania border. It is a very high elevation area and several wetmills are clustered in the areas near where coffee is grown. Coffee in this specific area is grown at 1500-1600 meters.
The BUMOCO (Burundi High Mountain Coffee) Society also owns and operates the Nyagashiha washing station. These washing stations, or wetmills, convert coffee received as cherries and processes to an exportable bean ready to be roasted. The stations do this work on behalf of 200 small farmholders of the Burambi and Buyengero communes making this a particularly small society. The cherries that are collected are processed by the fully-washed method which enables the coffee to feature a pronounced acidity and clean profile.
The methods of processing used at this cooperative and at many better washing stations are traditional to Burundi, where the coffee cherries are pulped and "dry fermented" for up to 12 hours before being fully washed with clean mountain water for anywhere between 12 and 24 hours. Lastly the beans are soaked for an additional 12 to 18 hours before being dried in parchment on raised beds. This process, in addition to the high elevation where the coffee is grown, equates to a high quality and clean cup.
The overall quality of the coffee in Burundi, particularly in the northern hills, is high and improving steadily as premiums for top quality are being paid to farmer members of each washing station. Since coffee marketing legislation was enacted in 2008, direct sales contracts became permitted between Burundian producers and international coffee buyers, roasters and importers. Further, the legislation permits the payment of a quality premium to those responsible for producing "specialty" coffee (producers, washing station management teams and dry millers). Coffee must be harvested only when ripe and be processed promptly. This follows a similar model in Rwanda where coffee quality has also seen major improvement in recent years.
In Burundi the majority of coffee is grown by subsistence farmers. In fact, about 800,000 families in this small country of only 9 million people, grow or are involved with coffee; it accounts for 80 percent of Burundi's export revenue. Almost all of it is Arabica and of the Bourbon varietal. Farmers grow crops for their own food supply but also grow some cash crops, such as coffee. Most farms have between 50 and 250 trees, only enough to a couple of sacks of coffee in total. The coffee, once picked, has to be rushed to the local washing station.
Specialty coffee has been growing in Burundi in recent years because it earns farmers more money. Indeed natural conditions augur well for growing top coffee as there is volcanic soil and mist covered mountains, all set almost astride the equator. Selected lots can be had, often without pedigree, but with a very sophisticated palate - a terrific situation for savvy consumers. Great quality at attractive prices. High grown coffee from Burundi, particularly those from Kayanza, Ngozi and Muyinga provinces are making a name for themselves as single origin espresso coffees.
Farmers: 200 small family farmers
Washing Station (processing): Nyamasaka Washing Station
Region: Muyinga. Northern Burundi
Station elevation: 1550 meters
Processing Method: Fully washed, drying on raised beds
Drying: Full sun
Harvest: April through Julne
Export: July through November
Cup Characteristics: The Bourbon variety lends itself to deep and rich chocolate toned coffees. This highly fragrant example has flavors of sweet cherry and honey. It is clean, crisp and replete with red apple acidity. Long finish. Clear, well balanced coffee.
Roasting Notes: Sturdy, dense Bourbon can handle roasts between City+ at the minimum end to Viennese on the longer end, the latter a possibility as a single origin espresso. But best roast and use, in our opinion, is as french press or drip and roasted Full City. Pull at the very start of second crack and some of the high notes will be present while the chocolate aspects will be well defined.
Burundi coffee facts:
Population: 8.98 million people
Coffee Production: 515 thousand bags (60 kg) or 68 million pounds. Arabica is 96% of production.
Country bag capacity: 132 pounds - 60 kg
Domestic Consumption: Very little.
Coffee Export: 510 thousand bags (60 kg)
Cultivated Area: 60,000 hectares (about 150,000 acres)
Harvests: February - June
Arabica Introduced: Arabica introduced by the Belgians in early 1930s.
Specialty Coffee Regions: The western and central regions.
Grades: Superior grades of washed coffee are Ngoma Mild, AA and A based on size and number of allowable defects. Average moisture content is 11.5%.
Farms: Entirely small holder based activity with over 800.000 families directly involved in coffee farming. Farms are very small with most only 50 to 250 trees per farm. Coffee is cultivated at altitudes ranging from 1250 and 2000 meters above sea level.
Botanical Varietals: Bourbon almost exclusively but very small quantities of Jackson and Mibirizi.
Since land is scarce in small Burundi it is more economically desirable that the specialty coffee be developed for its improved income. At present there are about 140 washing stations where local subsistence farmers can bring their freshly harvested coffee cherries for processing. Most processing is traditional washed method, with some semi washed being done where washing stations do not yet exist. Burundi is landlocked between Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo with a significant portion of its land adjacent to Lake Tanganyika. Coffee from Burundi is attracting increasing attention from the specialty coffee industry, as has neighboring Rwanda.