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Burundi Coffee Is on the Rise — for Good Reason

Small in size, but mighty in possibilities.

by Team Trade | May 01, 2019

Ask a group of coffee professionals what their favorite coffee origins are and you’ll probably get a pretty solid amount of African countries in your answer set. Coffee, after all, was first discovered in Africa, and more specifically in Ethiopia, from where it then spread throughout the world through colonial trade routes. And Ethiopia is still well-known for a wide variety of delicious, fruity coffees that for many of us opened our eyes to “coffee that doesn’t just taste like coffee.” Kenya is another typical favorite with its ultra-bright, savory, full-bodied, and super-clean coffees that excite us with flavors like lime and tomato. But there are newer favorites emerging in Africa as well, and key among them is the country of Burundi.

At around the size of Maryland, Burundi is a relatively small country compared to most of its coffee growing neighbors, and its coffee producing history is relatively short. In its 56 years of independence, it has been wracked by civil war and instability, ranking by many measuresas one of the poorest countries in the world.

"As a land-locked country, Burundi, as well as the East African region generally, faces critical infrastructure challenges, particularly roads to bring coffee to ports," says Jeanine Niyonzima-Aroian, who founded the exporting company JNP Coffee in 2012. "Coffee is very clearly part of my vision for supporting my homeland of Burundi."

Instrumental in the growing popularity of Burundi’s coffees among American roasters, Jeanine has been helping roasters and importers connect with increasingly delicious coffees ever since, while also continuing her work with the nonprofit Burundi Friends International. "Coffee has presented itself as an opportunity to lift people out of poverty," Jeanine tells us. "It's an opportunity for coffee drinkers to support coffee farmers directly. Coffee represents an amazing way to empower women on so many levels. The financial literacy education we provide through Burundi Friends International offers women new ways to support themselves. The premiums women coffee farmers receive from JNP Coffee have already provided the means to start new businesses and build a new washing station."

It’s a nation whose people you desperately want to root for, and though coffee and overall economic success aren’t always linked, organizations like the active Burundi chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance and the socially minded efforts of exporters like JNP give hope that the growth of Burundi’s coffee industry could have a positive effect on this wonderful country.

The flavor profiles of the finest coffees emerging from Burundi are most exciting in their Simone Biles level of balance. They’re generally not the so-called “coffee coffees” that just taste like an elevated version of the flavors everyone knows, and they’re not the citric acid bombs from Kenya or flower garden coffees of Ethiopia either. They occupy a comfortable yet refined space right in the middle. And while balance might seem like a hard thing to get excited about, the way Burundi coffees deliver clean citrus and stone fruit notes while leveling them out with dark, sugary flavors like caramel and raisin makes them coffees that pretty much anyone can thoroughly enjoy.

As with many up-and-coming coffee producing countries, improved infrastructure has led to both higher overall quality and a wider variety of offerings. For example, if those delightfully balanced washed coffees aren’t exciting enough on their own, Burundi has fairly recently started producing natural process coffees, with all the slightly funky, ripe fruit flavors that natural African coffees are known for. "People have come to understand that higher quality coffees improve the chances of higher prices," Jeanine tells us.

Dive into our wide selection of Burundi offerings, such as Kickapoo’s Burundi Gakenke Washed, Bird Rock’s natural process Burundi Gahahe, and our first Trade Exclusive CoffeeHuckleberry’s Burundi Gitwe.  

Maciej Kasperowicz, QC Team