Navigating a trip from Australia into the heart of East Africa is no easy task, but with inspiring coffee partners waiting on the ground for us, it was easily worth the effort. In Burundi, I’d be visiting our partners, Long Miles Coffee to identify potential lots for both our limited release range and blends, in addition to getting to grips with an ambitious collaboration project to extend the native Kibira Rainforest. The people, landscapes, experiences and certainly the coffees were something to write home about!
Any of the cramped, jet lagged trials to get to Burundi seem insignificant as you fly into the capital, Bujumbura and see the landscape unfolding below.
The Long Miles Cupping Lab
With a strong sense of shared values around excellent quality coffee and social impact, we’ve been buying from Long Miles for the past 6 years. The plan on this trip was to spend a couple of days in the Long Miles lab in Bujumbura cupping and then head upcountry to see the harvest in action and visit the Kibira Rainforest.
Getting stuck into the cupping table, we had a sample spread representing day lots, separated by hill. Each day, cherries would be delivered to the Heza washing station by the small holder farmers on the surrounding hills such as Nkonge and Gitwe. Each delivery would be clearly recorded per farmer and then these small parcels of cherry – often around 40kg – would be combined into the day lots.
Limited Release Selection
For our limited release program, I was looking for distinctive coffees, scoring 86 or more points on the cupping form. These smaller, higher scoring parcels of coffee would mean a better payment to the farmers, but will also be significantly more expensive. As these lots will end up being featured for filter roasts and single origin espresso, so they had to be good. And I wasn’t disappointed! Although many of the samples were only recently off the drying beds, and therefore a little unstable in their flavours, there were some incredible standouts from both Gitwe and Nkonge, spreading everywhere from elegant citrus with sparkling acidity to deep papaya and strawberries and cream.
Heza Washing Station
The following days, we headed upcountry. Around 1.5 hours drive away is the Heza washing station which receives and processes cherry from 5 surrounding hills and around 2000 small holder farmers. Heza is perched on the slopes of the Gitwe hill and on the opposite side of the valley stands Nkonge, the two main hills we’ve been sourcing from.On the winding roads.L: Heza washing station on the slopes of Gitwe. | R: The drying tables of Heza.Ben of Five Senses and Ben of Long Miles surveying plans for a new mill.Cherries come through the pulper, and into the ferment tanks.Washed process coffees on raised beds, drying.
One of the major challenges for Burundian farmers is the Antestia bug which can burrow into the coffee cherries causing what’s known as Potato defect – pretty self-explanatory: no-one wants the taste of raw potatoes in their morning brew! Luckily, farmer training and education run by Long Miles has seen potato defect rates drop from 40% of crops when they first established to now less than 2%. That yield increase alone is a huge impact for the livelihoods of these small holder farmers.
Trees for Kibira
Just prior to heading to this sourcing trip, we ran a fundraising campaign, Trees for Kibira, with some of our incredible café partners and Common Man Coffee Roasters to raise money for an extensive reforestation project. Extending the native Kibira Rainforest through surrounding coffee lands, the goal is to encourage climate stability, ensuring coffee farmer livelihood for years to come. After hearing so much about this great project, we were excited to hike through this beautiful forest – one of the sources of the White Nile! Every visitor to Kibira is hosted by a ranger. This is Ranger Deus.Seeds from native, nitrogen fixing trees will be the cornerstone of the reforestation.
While the Trees for Kibira project is in its infancy, it’s exciting to be collaborating on a project that could have a significant impact on the livelihoods of so many people. Stay tuned as we’ll be attempting to bring you updates on our progress.
And don’t forget, if all these pictures of Burundi have got your mouth watering, we’ve still got a few of the existing crop roasted up and ready for you brewing enjoyment!