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I’m really proud to have introduced Salum Ramadhan to the family of Royal coffees and Crown Jewels this season. This is our first year carrying coffees from his washing stations in the Kayanza province of Burundi, and we were just blown away by the high quality of the arrivals. This Raised Bed Honey is available in limited quantities in both 60kg bags and 10kg Crown Jewel boxes, and is just a delight to drink, rippling with red fruit notes and sugary sweetness. However, if you’re more of a traditionalist, we have a classic triple-washed coffee from one of Salum’s other washing stations.
Burundi is a small republic located just south of Rwanda, wedged between the Democratic Republic of 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 predominantly 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 nineties leaving staggering civilian casualties in its wake on both sides of the conflict. Lacking the international attention of Rwanda’s genocide, but no less tragic or severe, Burundi has been largely ignored and left to its own devices. It is now one of the most impoverished and undernourished countries in the world.
After a highly curated trip to the capital, Bujumbura, as a juror with Cup of Excellence in 2014, I returned to Burundi under my own recognizance in 2015 to observe for myself the country and its coffee. My guide, and the man who ushered me safely across a border after unrest erupted in Bujumbura, was Salum Ramadhan.
I met Salum after an email introduction from Tim Hill (Counter Culture Coffee), and my friend Sam Muhirwa (Buf Coffee) brought me to the border crossing in southern Rwanda for our first in-person interaction. I was immediately impressed with how invested he was in his community and how his coffee washing stations and export business ran like well oiled machines. The fermentation tanks and washing channels are immaculate, parchment dries in thin layers on well-organized beds, and Salum pays well above average for both daily labor and cherry deliveries from local farmers. Each station is also surrounded by a multi-purpose farm, serving as test plots for new varieties and as examples of a well-run garden for local smallholders. He’s working on completing a private dry mill in the near future, which would help ensure better efficiency in processing, storage, and exporting. Mbirizi is his second washing station, established in 2014, and now has around 2750 contributing farmers.
Salum Ramadhan is a self-made man, and a native of Kayanza, where he seems to know everyone. Kayanza is in the heart of Burundi’s coffee production area, second only to neighboring province Ngozi in total production volume. Coffee is the country’s leading export product, both by value (65%) and volume (90%), followed by tea, cotton, and sugar. 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. But with people like Salum leading the charge, we can see the pendulum swinging towards positive change.
This is a honey processed coffee, sometimes called pulped natural or more rarely semi-washed. The coffee cherries, once delivered to Mbirizi station, are pulped but skip the fermentation tank and go straight to drying tables. Salum ensures that honey and natural dry process coffees get the fullest attention on his raised beds – thin layers and frequent turning for thorough drying to ensure quality preservation.
The coffee is dense, and a little smaller and more widely dispersed than its fully washed companion lot. The low moisture figures are an encouraging sign in coffees from this area of the world – Burundi coffee harvests during the rainy season, so drying parchment is under constant threat of seasonal rains. Washing station employees must constantly be on the lookout for rainclouds and be ready at moment’s notice to cover the drying coffee with tarps.
The green is a mix of Jackson and Mbirizi (hence the name of the station) varieties, local Bourbon cultivars distributed as long ago as the 1950s, widely planted in Rwanda as well. Despite lower than average per-hectare yields, these coffee varieties tend to produce high sensory quality. After a bitter fight with a dreaded sensory defect known as “potato,” the last several years, we’re seeing decreasing frequency of this troublesome hiccup in quality. Part of the problem, of course, is that the defect is practically undetectable until roasted, so it’s difficult to eliminate at the farm or washing station. However, pre-processing cherry flotation at the wet mill and extensive hand-sorting of drying parchment seem to be helping.
Lately I have been using the Ikawa roaster to help me profile the coffees before I roast a larger batch on the Probatino. The 50 gram batch size is incredibly convenient for this and I can adjust my profiles as needed. The two profiles presented are the same in time and temperature detail, but differ in airflow. Ikawa Roast (1) has an airflow profile that I have come to call “V” style because it decreases fan speed through the drying stage and then increases as yellowing occurs and Maillard reactions begin.
Ikawa Roast (2) has a reverse shelf approach. The fan speed increases through the drying stage and reaches maximum setting as soon as Maillard begins and remains there through the duration of the roast. Although the fan speed can physically go higher than the setting I use (78%), I have found that staying below this setting helps me keep the coffee in the roasting chamber.
Both roast profiles did a great job developing fruit acidity and creating balance in the cup. The high airflow in Ikawa Roast (2) pushed the heat faster through the chamber and in turn delayed first crack by 10 seconds. It tasted sweet, but slightly muted. Ikawa Roast (1) had a slight edge on Roast (2) with a brighter acidity that really popped out in the cup.
My goal with this coffee was to keep a bright and juicy acidity. I noticed that during the drying stage, the roast dragged along and needed some extra heat. I reduce the heat slightly 30 seconds after yellowing to extend the maillard stage which progressed quickly.
First crack happened slightly earlier than I had expected. The high density of this coffee pulled slightly after first crack, so I kept the heat on through the end of the roast. This honey processed coffee tastes fruity like a natural and roasts like a washed coffee. Don’t be afraid to keep the heat on.
Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Behmor roasts. Generally, I’ll use the 1lb setting, manual mode (P5), full power, and high drum speed until crack. Read my original post and stats here.
This delicious coffee endured even my heavy handed first roast of the day. While the crack and development time were similar to the washed lot of Burundi accompanying this coffee in this week’s analysis, the difference in roast was entirely due to method of heat application.
I engaged P4 about 30 seconds after first crack, which is pretty far along in the roast to be diminishing heat application. I have had much better results engaging a lower-heat profile just as crack happens, or immediately prior. The crack was rapid and consistent.
Even though I achieved a 14.9% (!!) roast loss on this coffee, the sweetness and some acidity held on strong. If you’re a fan of darker roasts, read on below for an appropriate recipe. Otherwise, you may want to reduce heat application immediately at crack, or just prior.
What a delightful coffee. I kept spinning our cupping table around so I could return to it; even stone cold it was still delicious. I was sure it could handle anything as a brew. True to form, it only took one small adjustment to dial this coffee to perfection. Based on both its performance at the cupping table, where it had tasted great even when over extracted and cold, as well as the data Chris collected while doing green analysis, I had a hunch that this coffee would be able to handle a very high extraction.
With this in mind I went with a long, 1:18 ratio extraction on a Kalita, who’s flat brew bed would assist in maximizing extraction.
The first brew was tasty, but a little more astringent and less clean and sweet than I had expected. It retained some pineapple and cranberry sweetness, but the hint of wood told me that I had over extracted. Knowing I was close, I changed the grind setting on the EK43 just a half notch coarser, from 8 to 8.5. Though the brew times remained within a few seconds of each other, the second brew was full of rich juiciness, cranapple, peach, and ripe pineapple with just enough nougat and cocoa powder to balance it out.
Salum’s Honey processed coffee was a real crowd pleaser (Crown pleaser?!). I would drink it all day if I could.