Burundi is a land-locked region that is located between Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania. It is a landlocked region, and it features some diverse hilly, mountainous terrain that is ideal for growing coffee. The lowest point of the country, Lake Tanganyika, is 772 meters above sea level, and the highest points in the country are more than 2,600 meters high.
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Popular Coffees from Burundi
Most coffees from Buruni boast a delicate and clean flavour, with a balanced body and just a hint of acidity. They offer a sweet citrus taste with cinnamon and spice notes and undertones of honey and lemon blossom. The taste is similar to that of coffee from nearby Rwanda, although perhaps slightly cleaner and sweeter. The vast majority of coffee grown in Burundi is of the Bourbon varietal.
The Coffee Industry in Burundi
The Belgians introduced Arabica coffee plants to the country in the 1930s, and it did not take long for the coffee industry to become an important part of the economy in Burundi. Today, there are more than 800,000 families working in the coffee industry in the country. Most of the farms are relatively small, with farmers taking care of between 50 and 250 plants. In total, coffee plantations cover more than 60,000 hectares of the country.
Because Burundi is landlocked, it depends on the stability of neighbouring countries to support its exports. Political instability in the Congo made it difficult for farmers to transport their goods, for a time, but this situation has improved in recent years. In addition, areas such as Kivu, which borders on Rwanda, enjoy good export opportunities.
There was a time when Burundi was focused on commodity-grade coffee, but today it focuses on specialty coffees which are wet-processed to produce the dynamic and bright flavour. Unfortunately, the high cost of exporting from this land-locked country, and the limited production means that supply is unreliable and the coffee is incredibly expensive.
Challenges in the Industry
The long roads that the coffee must traverse to make it to the nearest port are a serious challenge for exporters. Delays are common, and the quality of the coffee often suffers. Another challenge that Burundi faces is the “potato defect”. This problem is named after the potato-like taste that can be noticed in affected cups. The problem is caused by an insect that bores into coffee cherries, and damages the bean, causing the release of a pyrazine-based compound that will bind to the seed and leave a strong residual aftertaste. Farmers can reduce the likelihood of being affected by this insect if they harvest all of the ripe cherries on their plant, and do not allow any cherries to fall on the ground and rot.
The potato defect is not unique to Burundi, it is also an issue in neighbouring Rwanda. Specialty growers have managed to conquer it in both countries, and many of Burundi’s coffees score very highly in international coffee tasting competitions. If they can beat the export and processing issues, Burundi will become a world leader in specialty coffee.