Burundi is a small country, ideally perched in the middle of the central African mountains, in an area rich in water and pluvial forests that make it a fertile place for coffee cultivation.

Yet coffee came late to Burundi. Introduced only in the 1920s by the Belgian colonial rule. Only after the independence in 1962 Burundi started to produce a sizable coffee crop, large enough for being noticed by traders and in the world’s markets. Production got an enormous setback because of the 1993 civil war and has since, slowly, tried to recover. Most of the smallholder farmers are trying to get a living by increasing the quality of their coffee, but it is a slow process, and long to complete. The government provides most of the infrastructures, like roads and washing stations, while privates cultivate the coffee in the country.

The recent rise in interest on African coffee from the specialty coffee fans has helped Burundi get their name out. Nowadays nearly 90% of all exports of the country are in coffee and tea, giving jobs to thousands of farmers and local workers. The production is still low but quality is steadily increasing.

The largest part of the Burundi coffees is fully washed, in washing stations that are mostly government-owned but for a few, private ones. In many ways, Burundi coffees have plenty of similarities with its neighbour Rwanda: both have similar altitudes, a nearly identical climate and are landlocked, causing delays in making the raw coffee reach the consuming countries in good condition.

Until very recently, 2008, all the Burundi coffees were blended together, effectively creating a single, huge, single origin. This is not true anymore, and the lots of coffees are now kept separate, making it possible to differentiate coffees coming from the various growing regions in the country.

Generally speaking, Burundi coffees show the typical qualities and taste profile you would expect from a quality African coffee: bright acidity, juicy, big body, complex berry fruit flavours and occasionally chocolate-like tones. Higher altitude Burundi coffees will have more fruits, flowers and honey notes, and a more balanced body than lower altitude ones. Common notes of passionfruit and pineapple are present among all Burundi coffees.

Buyenzi region, in northern Burundi bordering Rwanda, is the main coffee-producing region. The high altitude contributes to producing coffee that regularly scores well in grading, with high acidity and citric notes. Within this larger region of Buyenzi, two smaller subregions deserve a mention: Kayanza and Ngozi. Both have recently been rated very high at coffee auctions and have thus become famed as the best Burundi coffees.

More to the north-east, the regions of Kirundo and Muyinga have a low output but increasingly being noticed for its quality. Some excellent coffees come instead from the very center of Burundi, within the Gitega region. Bubanza, in the northernmost province of Burundi, at the borders with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, has a noticeable quality coffee production too.

While Burundi started late, both in cultivating and differentiating the multiple coffee regions inside it, it is slowly catching up. There’s a lot of potential for excellent coffees in this small African country, and both the government and the private sector are pushing for more quality, traceable, coffee.

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