Coffee is one of the most popular commodities on the planet, but even veteran caffeine fanatics don’t know about every coffee on the planet, especially when they’re obscure like Burundi coffee. The Republic of Burundi is nestled between Tanzania and Rwanda in the eastern-central part of Africa. Tanzania and Rwanda are both renowned for coffee production and sell enormous volumes annually, leaving the Republic of Burundi to defend itself. However, when it comes to specialty coffee, Burundi is making waves. Below, we’ll introduce you to the Republic of Burundi and explore its delicious coffee beans.
Burundi Coffee Background
Burundi has been making coffee since the 1930s, shortly after Arabica coffee was introduced to the region by Belgian colonists. Burundi coffee beans thrive because of the unique ecology and hot climate, which is no surprise given the surrounding coffee-oriented countries. When you mix together a warm/hot climate and throw in high altitudes and nitrogen-rich soil, you’ve got a recipe for growing the greatest coffee on the planet.
Given the perfect coffee-growing landscape of Burundi, it’s surprising that it’s a lesser-known coffee. However, Burundi's exports are limited when compared to Ethiopia, Kenya, and other larger countries, but they still manage to secure an admirable 29th-best coffee-producing country.
At the time of writing, in 2022, the total population of Burundi is 12.26 million - a relatively small lot when compared to other African countries. The number of coffee workers in Burundi fluctuates depending on the source, but it’s typically considered upwards of 1 million, which is an enormous fraction of the total population.
Burundi Coffee Regions
Burundi is a mountainous country split up into 17 regions, but coffee production is typically centered on around 10 of these including:
- Ngozi. Burundi Ngozi coffee has won coffee quality awards including the 2015 Cup of Excellence, which makes up for its lower exportation rate.
- Kayanza. Burundi Kayanza coffee has a mild climate and grows coffee between 1,700 and 2000 meters above sea level.
- Kirundo. Kirundo has a low production rate of coffee, but they serve up excellence. In 2015, they scored an impressive 86.62 in the Cup of Excellence Award.
- Buyenzi. Located in northern Burundi, Buyenzi sits along the border of Rwanda and is considered the primary coffee-exporting in the country.
- Kimiro. At the heart of Burundi, you’ll find Kimiro, which produces award-winning coffee and has a dedicated coffee laboratory, where they taste coffee for quality.
- Bweru. Sat on the border of Tanzania, Bweru has the perfect soil conditions for coffee, which grows at 1,800 meters above sea level (m.a.s.l).
Coffee Farming in Burundi
The Congo reason suffers from much social and political unrest, which has an impact on coffee farming and may harm future exports. In particular, police controlling the border cause export delays, which come with extra costs - often in the way of bribes. Unfortunately, when compared to Uganda which can export coffee within two weeks, it takes the Congo region around 45 days.
Purchasing Burundi Coffees
Given the small size and difficulties exporting coffee, Burundi isn’t a prominent player in the world of coffee, but the quality is among the highest. Coffee brokers and green organizations work with importers to secure the passage of high-quality unroasted Burundi coffee beans into the United States. Coffee beans are typically bought in bulk and split into separate 132lb bags for wholesale trade, before being sold to customers.
If you’re trying to add Burundi coffee to your at-home barista, you’re best-off investing in whole-bean coffee, which helps to maintain its flavor. You should only grind the coffee when you’re ready to brew and avoid over-grinding if you can. Coffee from Burundi has to travel thousands of miles before landing in your kitchen, so you’re best off using it up within two to three weeks to get the best out of it. The quicker you use the coffee, the greater the taste - you have to remember the time it will spend sitting on a warehouse shelf, especially if you’re ordering from Amazon.
Varieties and Flavor
As you may have guessed, Burundi coffee shares similarities with other coffees produced in Africa. The elevated landscape and hot/wet climate make for a fruity coffee with hints of floral and citrus flavors. The coffee is so diverse in this region that some will have splashes of blueberry, some pineapple, honey, and some with notes of honey. The fluctuating altitudes in Burundi make for different tastes in coffee. Typically, those grown at lower altitudes are chocolatey or nutty, while the higher farms will export fruitier beans.
We mentioned previously that Arabica is the primary type of coffee in the region, but there are also parts of the country that focus on Robusta beans. For those of you that don’t know, here’s the difference between the Arabica and Robusta beans:
- Arabica. Arabica coffee comes with a sweet taste with notes of sugar and chocolate - or berries.
- Robusta. Robusta beans are much stronger and come with bitter tastes - flavor notes include rubbery and grainy tones.
How to Roast Burundi Coffee
When it comes to specialty coffee, it’s often best to have control over the brew, which is why pour-over coffee methods are popular with African coffees. Burundi beans are full of fruity and floral notes, which flourish with the pour-over method.
Although naturally flavored coffees lend themselves perfectly to the pour-over method, you can create delicious Burundi recipes using any of the following methods:
- Coffeemaker. The coffeemaker method is the most similar to pour-over, but it comes with limited control. However, it does come with the added benefit of making delicious, brewed coffee with the flick of a switch.
- AeroPress. Using an AeroPress offers versatility. It takes the immersion features of the French press and adds them to the filtration power of pour-over, all added to a pump. If you want coffee on the go, AeroPress is the best method.
- French press. If you want a dense brew, the French press is the best method for you. Taking coffee beans and immersing them in hot water forces them through a strainer. Using a metal filter allows undissolved coffee and oils to pass into the mug, which adds to the flavor.
- Cold brew. Cold brew is great for a summer’s day. All you need to do is immerse beans into room-temperate water and leave it for up to 12 hours, and then pour it through a filtration system.
- Siphon. If you want to look like you’re doing science experiments in your kitchen, get your hands on a siphoning kit. In the bottom of a siphon machine, you need to place water and then heat it with a flame. When the water bubbles, it travels to the hopper (upper part of the machine). When the correct temperature is reached you can add the coffee grounds and remove them from the heat. The change of gravity forces the coffee through a filtration tube and into your mug.
When brewing Burundi coffee, you need to consider the roast level as well, which makes a huge difference when it comes to the end result. Typically, light roasts are used for African coffee because they keep hold of the natural flavor for longer. If you use medium or dark roasts, the natural flavors can be buried by the taste of coffee.
As well as the brewing method and roast level, you need to consider how the beans are processed. When it comes to specialty coffee, washed coffee is the go-to processing method. However, if you’re buying Burundi coffee, you should know that the majority of it is double washed, which brings out a much clearer taste distinction.
Adding Syrups to Burundi Coffee
The majority of Arabica coffee is fruity and sweet, but there’s still a sour tone. Therefore, depending on your tastebuds, you may benefit from adding syrups to your brew, which can help to highlight the sour tests. There are countless coffee syrup flavors that are perfect for Arabica coffee. For example, if you wish to lower the sour taste you can add vanilla or chocolate-based syrups. Whereas, if you’re trying to boost the sour taste, amaretto or Irish cream are the perfect choices.
If your Burundi coffee is Robusta, holding a bitter taste, the best syrups to add will complement this - cinnamon and almond are perfect choices. Alternatively, citrus flavors like lime and lemon will work well. However, if you’re trying to reduce the bitterness, you can use amaretto or Irish cream syrups.
Burundi coffee may not have a prominent presence in the Western world, but that doesn’t hold it back from growing and producing some of the best-tasting coffee in Africa. If you enjoy full-bodied coffee and high levels of acidity, bursting with fruity and floral flavors, Burundi coffee will suit your perfectly. Remember, once you receive your coffee, try and use it within two to three weeks to retain its freshness.