Courtesy of Kenneth Davids, 21st Century Coffee: A Guide
Burundi is a small, landlocked country nestled in the heart of Africa near the headwaters of the Nile in the region of the African Great Lakes. Although Burundi’s history differs from that of Rwanda, they share commonalities both as coffee origins and as societies.
- Both are small countries with problematic histories that nevertheless produce very good, usually quite distinctive, specialty coffees.
- Both have high average growing elevations and excellent coffee terroirs.
- Both have large plantings of old, traditional tree varieties related to the heirloom Bourbon.
- Their proximity to the African Great Lakes may impact typical cup profiles in ways not yet documented or understood.
- Both countries share a sporadic regional coffee taint — the infamous potato defect, the unmistakable and quite unpleasant taste of raw, sprouted potato.
- Both countries — along with neighboring Uganda and the far eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo — suffer ongoing political and economic conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi, groups that share the same language and roughly the same culture but, for historical, economic and class reasons, identify as different peoples.
Conflict in Burundi: Off and Then On Again
In Burundi the Hutu-Tutsi tensions erupted in series of regime changes and massacres culminating in a bloody civil war in 1993–2005. From the end of that conflict until 2015, Burundi has been more or less at peace, largely producing better and better coffees. Pierre Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel leader, became the first president chosen in democratic elections since the start of Burundi’s civil war in 1993. But in 2015, Burundi was plunged into another crisis when Nkurunziza’s ultimately successful bid for re-election to a third term sparked protests by opposition supporters who said the move was unconstitutional. As I write in late 2020 free elections have been held that perhaps presage a return to something like stability. Meanwhile, excellent to extraordinary coffees continue to emerge from this troubled country.
Burundi Growing Regions
Burundi is a small country, about the size of Maryland. The coffee-growing regions all cluster in the north-center, from about the middle of the country stretching straight north to the border with Rwanda. Coffees are more often identified by mill or washing station than by region.
Most of the best Burundi coffees are produced from trees of various local cultivars, many related to the Bourbon variety brought to Tanzania from Réunion (then Bourbon) island near the end of the 19th century. Most common among them: Jackson, Mibirizi, Bourbon Mayaguez. All appear capable of displaying some version of the shifty Bourbon profile, from plump, balanced sweetness to a more distinctive juxtaposition of sweetness and tart pungency.
Newly Introduced Varieties.
Apparently some of the common Latin American varieties — Caturra, Catuaí — are also grown in Rwanda, but at this writing, hybrids incorporating genetic material from Robusta are not a significant factor in either Rwanda or Burundi. Almost all export coffee comes from trees of long-established local varieties.
Burundi Coffee Ratings and Review
Click here to see reviews of coffees from Burundi.