Introduction by Chris Kornman
Burundi is a small republic located just south of Rwanda, wedged between the Congo and Tanzania in the African great lakes region. Much of the country is bordered by lake Tanganyika, the second deepest freshwater lake on the planet. Rising up from dramatically from the lake are large fertile hills where smallholder farmers make their living on agriculture.
Burundi shares many similarities with Rwanda. Both were once part of a united colony called Ruanda-Urundi under German and then Belgian control; the country declared independence in 1962. The colonization in both countries exacerbated ethnic unrest; much like Rwanda, Burundi has a history of Hutu and Tutsi violence dating back to the 50s and 60s, but culminating in the early 1990s with staggering civilian casualties on both sides of the conflict. Agricultural products, specifically tea and coffee, are the chief exports of the impoverished nation. The potential for quality Arabica is incredibly high: ideal climate and growing conditions combined with old-growth heirloom varieties yield exceptional flavors. Political instability and logistics challenges continue to be the greatest stumbling blocks for access to the specialty coffee in the country.
Our Crown Jewel is from the south-western commune of Songa in Bururi province, a location that also happens to be the source of a tributary feeder to Lake Victoria and thereby the Nile River. The washing station is called Horezo, and services about 91 small family farms in the micro-region. Established in 2015 to give the local farmers better direct access to the buyers of their coffee, the washing station falls under the purview of the Kawazamurabawe cooperative. Burundi is known for its double-washing practice, that (like Kenya) soaks the coffee after fermenting and channel grading overnight in clean water. There is speculation that the process may improve quality by “tricking” the seed into germination activity for a few hours prior to drying. There is certainly an added benefit in terms of cleanliness by flushing the leftover pulpy water and then using fresh water to effectively halt fermentation prior to drying.
Green Analysis by Chris Kornman
Much of Burundi’s seed stock dates back to the 1950s in most cases, and nearly all the farmers in the country are growing old heirloom Bourbon sub-varieties, the two most common being Jackson and Mbirizi. This particular lot is a bit larger in screen size than average – while it’s marked as 15+, hardly any of the coffee passed through screen 16. It is typically dense for the region, and its moisture figures look quite stable, making it an ideal late winter coffee to hold over into the Northern Hemisphere shipping season.
Roast Analysis by Jen Apodaca
A slightly larger than average screen size, high density, and low moisture content had me concerned that this coffee would want to roast quickly once Maillard reactions began. But it could happily take the heat and we were rewarded with a complex acid structure of stone fruits and tropical fruits. Both roasts did want to plummet immediately following first crack and so I kept the heat on longer than normal (54 seconds in PR-551 and 2:16 in PR-551) before turning the heat down.
This week we decided to roast this coffee to a light-medium roast and into second crack so we could compare how the flavor transforms with additional sugar browning. Our lighter roast, PR-551 was nicely complex with notes of apricot, blackberry, red grape and even a touch of floral basil on the nose. Our darker roast, PR-552, held together nicely with notes of baked orange, black cherry, ripe honeydew, and roasted pecans. This is an incredibly dynamic coffee and with truly remarkable results at any roast level.
Brew Analysis by Evan Gilman
Jen provided us with both light and dark roasts of this spectacular Burundi coffee. The notes I have provided below detail three different brewing devices, with the idea being that dark roasts are often used in batch brewers, while light roasts may be more conducive to higher water-to-coffee ratios, and devices like the Chemex and Kalita.
I didn’t want the brews made with the Chemex and Kalita to be too delicate and precious, however. To that end, I ground the coffee a bit finer than normal, and did at 1:15 ratio for my Chemex brew. This coffee was pleasant in every instance, with the outstanding attribute being mouthfeel. This coffee was creamy, silky, buttery – everything you could possibly hope for. Even if you’re unable to taste, this coffee’s texture is something to marvel at.
As you can see from the numbers, the Bonavita brew was the dark roast, and by far the most soluble. This was a sticky cherry pie of a cup (eat your heart out, Agent Cooper), and had a hard candy sweetness that really lasted. Lots of chocolate smoothness came through, as you’d expect from a darker roast.
PR-551 was more gentle. The Chemex emphasized more of the tropical fruit notes that became obscured in other brewing methods, but the Kalita really brought out a classic raspberry chocolate flavor. Chris preferred the Chemex, and I preferred the Kalita – an instance of switching preferences, as I usually enjoy a denser cup of coffee than Chris.
This coffee is changing hearts and minds, folks. Give it a shot, or even just a filter drip. You’ll love it.
This coffee is available in full size bags as well. Contact Us to find out more.