Burundi is a small landlocked country in the African Great Lakes region. But it is also one of the African countries that has emerged as an important source for specialty coffees in the recent years.
The history of coffee in Burundi began in the 1930s under the Belgian colony, when coffee plants were cultivated as export crop for consumption by Europe and their colonies.
After Burundi gained its independence in 1962, the coffee industry was privatized and run with little to no control for its quality for over two decades.
The Burundian Civil War broke out in 1993 and lasted more than a decade and killing 300,000 people in the process. As a result, the production suffered and many farms were abandoned.
Like most countries in the region, Burundi has been plagued by power struggles for decades.
After the war, the country eventually turned to coffee as the best possible means to recover Burundi’s nearly devastated economy.
The government took partial control and formed a public-private partnership in Burundi’s coffee industry, which helped to increase investment and promote stability in the industry.
Inspired by the success of neighboring countries like Rwanda in rebuilding their nation through coffee, Burundi is finally seeing steady improvements in the quality and reputation of its coffee since the beginning of 2000s.
Coffee Production in Burundi
Today, more than 800,000 small farmers are involved in coffee, who also produce other crops or livestock at the same time.
Over 60,000 hectares of land are cultivated with around 25 million coffee plants, where an average farmer owns less than a hectare of land for growing coffee. This allows the country to produce microlot coffees by default.
The majority of Burundi’s coffee are Arabica, mostly of the Bourbon variety.
Burundi are blessed with excellent conditions for growing coffee — good terroir, nutrient-rich volcanic soil, and sufficient rainfall. Credit: Dave Proffer
Most of Burundi’s coffees are grown between 1,250 – 2,000 meters above sea level. The majority of exported Burundian coffees are classified as Strictly High Grown(SHG).
Prominent coffee regions in Burundi are located towards the center, north, and northeast of the country, where elevations are higher. Credit: Dave Proffer
Coffee cherries are collected and delivered to centralized washing stations to be processed using a traditional processing method which is similar to Kenya washed. Apart from that, Burundi also adopts washed and natural processing methods. Currently, there are approximately 160 washing stations around the country.
Burundi shares a common pest as Rwanda, known as the Antestia bugs.
These bugs feed on unripe coffee cherries and produce a pungent raw potato odor in beans. Credit: Tim Hill
The challenge is that, the damages caused by these bugs are difficult to detect at farming and processing stage, so it is not uncommon to find “potato defect” in an otherwise great cup of Burundian coffee.
The characteristics of Burundian coffee are often compared to Rwandan coffee.
Generally, a fine Burundian coffee is clean, balanced, and consistent. It also tends to exhibit sweetness, heavy body, and bright acidity, with notes of fruits, flowers or honey.
However, because coffee can be found planted across the country on a wide range of altitudes, it is common to find a dynamic range of characteristics in Burundi’s coffees.
Higher altitude coffees tend to have higher acidity and citric notes, while lower altitude coffees tend to display notes of chocolate and hazelnut.