Coffee cultivation in Burundi began in the 1930s when the Belgians brought Arabica coffee plants. Today more than 800,000 Burundi families are involved in coffee growing. These smallholders average about 250 trees each, with most farms producing other crops or livestock as well. Production in the country struggled for some time due to political instability, but exports are beginning to smooth out.
- Size – 27,830 sq km
- Capital City – Bujumbura
- Main Port City – Landlocked country
- Population – 11,099,298 (July 2016)
- Language/s Spoken – Kirundi (official), French (official), English (official)
- Population Involved in Coffee – 700,000
- Average Farm Size – <0.5–1 hectares
- Bags Exported Annually – 160,000 bags
Coffee Burundi Profile
- Growing Regions – Gitega, Karuzi, Kayanza, Kirundo, Muyinga, Ngozi
- Common Varieties – Bourbon, French Mission Bourbon, Jackson, Mibirzi
- Processing Method/s – Washed, some Natural
- Bag Size – 60 kg
- Harvest Period – March– July
- Typical Arrival – September–January
History Coffee Burundi
Coffee production has been something of a roller coaster in Burundi, with wild ups and downs: During the country’s time as a Belgian colony, coffee was a cash crop, with exports mainly going back to Europe or to feed the demand for coffee by Europeans in other colonies. Under Belgian rule, Burundian farmers were forced to grow a certain number of coffee trees each—of course receiving very little money or recognition for the work. Once the country gained its independence in the 1960s, the coffee sector (among others) was privatized, stripping control from the government except when necessary for research or price stabilization and intervention. Coffee farming had left a bad taste, however, and fell out of favor; quality declined, and coffee plants were torn up or abandoned.
The nearly total devastation of the country’s economy, coffee slowly emerged as a possible means to recover the agrarian sector and increase foreign exchange. In the first decade of the 2000s, inspired in large part by neighboring Rwanda’s success rebuilding through coffee, Burundi’s coffee industry saw an increase in investment, and a somewhat healthy balance of both privately and state-run coffee companies and facilities has created more opportunity and stability, and has helped Burundi establish itself as an emerging African coffee-growing country, despite its small size and tumultuous history.
Like Rwanda and, to a lesser extent, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi battles the infamous “potato defect,” a microorganism that contributes a raw-potato-like flavor and aroma to infected beans, and which can’t be detected by sight in parchment, green, or roasted coffee. Research efforts to eradicate the defect completely have shown promise, and we look forward to the day when the potato is a distant memory.
Burundi’s Coffee Growing Regions
Landlocked at the crest of the Nile-Congo watershed, Burundi is a small and very hilly and mountainous country between East Africa and Central Africa, and situated between Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The quality of exported Burundi coffee has been compared to the coffee of its neighbor Rwanda. Other regions in Burundi consist of: Ngozi, Kirundo, Muyinga, Karuzi, Krimiro..
Along Burundi’s western border is the scenic Lake Tanganyika, the country’s lowest point at 772 meters above sea level, and elevations in Burundi rise as high as 2,670 meters at the summit of Mount Heha. The majority of Burundi’s exported coffee qualifies as Strictly High Grown (SHG) / Strictly Hard Bean (SHB).
See more Burundi Coffee Beans from Espresso & Coffee Guide
Coffee production and Microlots
Like many of its neighbors in Africa, Burundi produces microlots almost by default: Each farmer owns an average of less than even a single hectare, and delivers cherries to centralized depulping and washing stations, SOGESTALs (Sociéte de Gestion des Stations de Dépulpage Lavage), and it may take more than producers’ delivery in order to create a lot.
This purchasing style makes it nearly impossible, if not completely impossible, to arrive at single-producer, single-farm, or single-variety lots; instead, coffees are typically sold under the appellation of the washing station. (In Kayanza, there are 21 washing stations, including familiar names to Cafe Imports’ offerings page: Gackowe, Butezi, Gatare, and Kiryama.)
Processing Coffee in microlots
Depending on the leadership and management at the stations, both private- and state-run, the attention to detail in the processing makes a big difference, with meticulous sorting, fermenting, and washing necessary to create quality and uniformity among the coffee. The typical processing method in Burundi is similar somewhat to Kenya, with a “dry fermentation” of roughly 12 hours after depulping, followed by a soak of 12–14 hours in mountain water. Coffees are floated to sort for density, then soaked again for 12–18 hours before being dried in parchment on raised beds.