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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 Triple Washed coffee is available in limited quantities in both 60kg bags and 10kg Crown Jewel boxes, and is bursting with bright citrus notes and brown sugar sweetness. However, if you’re more of an experimental type, we’re also featuring a spectacular honey process 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. Buzira was his first washing station, established in 2009, and now has around 3000 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.
Much like its honey-processed counterpart, this triple washed coffee is of high density. It’s a little larger and more precisely screened, however, as well as being a touch dryer with lower water activity. 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 rain clouds and be ready at moment’s notice to cover the drying coffee with tarps.
Triple washing in this case refers to the additional efforts undertaken to sort and preserve quality prior to drying. The coffee is (1) floated before pulping to remove under/overripe and damaged cherries, then pulped and fermented – first a 16-hour dry fermentation followed by a 14-hour underwater fermentation. After this, the coffee is (2) flushed down the density channels to a secondary holding tank, where it is (3) soaked in clean water for an extra 10 hours. The post-fermentation soak is thought to “trick” the seed into pre-germination activity, a speculated source of enhanced sweetness and acidity.
This green coffee is a mix of Jackson and Mbirizi 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 Attributescall “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.
These two roasts were quite similar even with the difference in airflow profiles which accounts for the flexibility of this super clean coffee. Both roasts had a tart acidity with a floral nose that was reminiscent of a nice washed Ethiopian coffee. Ikawa roast (1) had a slightly brighter acidity, while Ikawa roast (2) had a muted, almost bready finish.
Transferring the Ikawa profile to the Probatino was easily done and I was able to replicate nearly the same percentages during all three stages of the roast. First crack was on the early side and I needed to lower the temperature after first crack to extend my post crack development time to match the 16% ratio on the Ikawa roast. In the cup, this coffee tastes like flowers with fresh melon and citrus. It is syrupy and can handle a wide range of profiles. This truly is a phenomenal coffee and I hope you get the opportunity to roast it.
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 is an utterly fantastic coffee. In multiple passes on the cupping table it wowed our whole group, especially on cooling.
In the Behmor roaster this coffee took on heat very easily, and I achieved first crack at 11:05. There was a bit more smoke than normal coming from the roaster at this point, so I may have overreacted in stopping the roast after about 1:15 of development time.
While the roast performed decently on the cupping table, it definitely could have sustained more development time. Don’t be afraid of a little smoke coming from the machine with this lot. The beauty of this coffee will shine right through!
Here is another phenomenal example of the potential of Burundian coffees. The careful processing that Salum oversees makes this and the Honey processed coffee from Mbrizi, another of his washing stations, are some of the best Burundi’s to slide across our cupping tables in a while. In the multiple rounds of cuppings all Crown Jewels go through, this one presented a lot of elegant sweetness, like golden raisin and mango, balanced by smooth milk chocolate and a slightly cooling finish.
Just like Salum’s Honey processed coffee, I knew this coffee was going to taste delicious regardless of brew method. In order to explore the depths of this triple washed coffee from the Buzira washing station, I chose to do one full immersion (Clever) and one pour over (Chemex) at two different brew strengths.
On the Clever dripper we chose a 1:16 ratio with two stirs, draining at the 4:00 minute mark and halting brewing at 5:00 minutes, even though there was still a small amount of water left in the brew bed. Based on my recent experiments with extraction, I knew that all the good stuff had gone into the beverage very early on in the brew, and that this late in extraction I was mostly diluting the brew with watery, and slightly bitter notes. In any case, it seems that I made the right choice because the resulting brew was lovely, full of tropical fruit notes like star fruit, passion fruit, and dragon fruit, balanced by thick syrupy sugars like nougat, molasses, and rhubarb pie. We liked this brew so much I was hard pressed to save enough to measure TDS with before the carafe disappeared!
In the hopes of learning a little more about this coffee, I also brewed it on Chemex at a 1:18 brew ratio. Again, the cup was full of delicious fruity sweetness, like lychee, mandarins, and canned peaches, with a little more of those cocoa notes and an elegant touch of sweet tobacco to round it out.