Jeanine Niyonzima-Aroian, the founder of JNP Coffees, is without a doubt one of the most influential individuals in Burundi coffee today.
Raised in Bujumbura, Jeanine would go on to earn an MBA from Northwestern University’s prestigious Kellogg School, cycle through corporate America, and eventually reconnect with her birth country by founding Burundi Friends International, a not-for-profit that funds educational and economic empowerment programs for rural Burundians, which is now in its 13th year. After a few years marketing Burundi coffees stateside for friends and family, Jeanine realized she had every reason to lead the business, and JNP Coffee was born.
JNP Coffee is highly focused on women’s empowerment, and along with a few local women’s rights advocates, formulated the Burundi chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance. The network of IWCA farmer members in Burundi is now more than 2,000, whose coffee is differentiated by membership, marketed for its traceability and impact, and which generates end-of-year premiums for all involved. In fact, the IWCA value chain has been so impactful that JNP has created additional programs to expand their farmer base and generate premiums beyond the IWCA registered growers.
This is one of those additional programs. A local leader of a producer group in Kayanza Province, perhaps Burundi’s best-known coffee terroir, decided to seek JNP’s partnership. He had heard of JNP’s assistance programs and post-harvest premiums and wanted to know how to involve his group. For groups like this JNP has established the “Dushime” program (dushime in Kirundi translates to “let’s be thankful”), which provides quality consulting, lot selection, marketing to JNP’s buyer community, and end-of-year premiums. This coffee, created from two distinct processing lots, has been titled Incuti, which translates to “relative”, and is often used to mean ‘’friend” in Kirundi. A fitting title for a new coffee relationship between Burundians.
In Kayanza and Ngozi, the two provinces at the heart of the nation’s coffee production, competition for cherry can be fierce, so washing stations may pay well above the country’s minimum price to court premium harvests. JNP coffee goes a step further, returning second payments to farmers and investing in opportunities for education and community building.
Natural processing by the Incuti group is as detailed as anywhere in Burundi where the best coffees are produced. Cherry is sorted by hand for ripeness upon delivery, and then floated for density and visible defects. The drying process is very drawn-out, typically demanding 45-60 days in the high elevation chill. The extended drying time compared to fully-washed processing, combined with the fact that naturals are dried in a single layer of cherry, both mean that for processors and farmers alike, naturals require a huge increase of time and attention—not to mention delayed payment for farmers contributing cherry. Naturals, therefore, are still quite rare in Burundi, and they require skilled management to pay off.