Burundi ~ a new frontier
Kiryama Washing Station, Kayanza Province, Burudi
Kiryama is our first foray into Burundi coffee. Our lot is from the Kiryama (pronounced Kigama) washing station, built in 1988 and owned by the government. It is in northern Burundi at an altitude of 5,800 feet near the border with Rwanda.
Even though our lot is from last summer’s harvest (2010), the beans still retain bright yet smooth acidity underpinned by the flavor of light molasses tinged with ripe orange and raspberry. Most coffees acquire generic woody notes after storage this long; nevertheless our lot has lost none of its definition in the long journey to Boston. Getting coffees quickly from land-locked Burundi and Rwanda, its neighbor just to the north, is always very difficult and shipments almost always arrives quite late.
The beans are from the Mibirizi and Jackson cultivars, both variants of the heirloom Bourbon variety. Mibirizi is the name of a mission in Rwanda where Bourbon trees from Guatemala were first planted in 1905. I cannot find any information on the Jackson version of Bourbon. These plants have adapted well to the environments of Rwanda and, later in 1930, Burundi.
Burundi shares much common ground with Rwanda; both are tiny countries with a common border that share a tragic conflict between Tutsi and Hutu; both have high density populations in similar environments. According to the Office of Burundi Coffee there are 800,000 families living on 60,000 hectares of farmland. This corresponds to well under a quarter of an acre per family. Other obstacles shared with Rwanda are access to the sea and a dire need for further development of infrastructure. 80% of Burundi’s export revenues is coffee.
Still another problem for both Rwanda and Burundi is a bacteria which can radically affect the flavor of coffee beans; one infected bean can release a powerful raw potato flavor and aroma which destroys a pot of coffee! No lot of coffee from these two countries can be said to be 100% free of this problem. If you get such a cup, the roaster cannot be blamed. In a high quality lot like this one you can go through hundreds of great cups and then hit one or two like a wall! Chalk it to the necessary experience of the coffee treasure hunter, just as true wine lovers know what corky means! The number of incidents have steadily diminished over the years as these countries work to eliminate it entirely.
Burundi has made extraordinary leaps towards producing great quality coffees in very few years. I have been invited to and eagerly accepted to be a cupping juror in a Cup of Excellence practice competition in Burundi this summer in preparation for the real event in 2012.
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