Burundian Coffee Joins Ranks of International Elite

January 07, 2013

Coffee from Burundi is now far more visible on world markets after an international competition was held in the country.

With support from the Burundi Agribusiness Program (BAP)—a DAI-implemented, United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded project that recently came to a close after five years—Burundi became the second African nation to host a Cup of Excellence contest, a well-known international coffee competition that rewards the best quality coffee. It was this competition that gave the country’s coffee bean growers a well-deserved boost. About 150 lots of Burundian coffee were pre-selected for submission to the competition. Coffee production is divided into “lots” when processed at the wet mill and taste, as well as quality, can differ per lot, depending on the soil, plant varietal, altitude, rainfall and a host of other factors.

The 17 winning lots in this year’s Cup of Excellence Competition, evaluated by an international jury came from 14 different coffee washing stations in 10 different Burundian provinces. Six of the washing stations were BAP pilot washing stations where technical assistance had been provided to the farmers for improving their agronomic processes to produce high quality coffee and technological improvements had been made to coffee processing infrastructure. The winning coffee was produced at a BAP partner washing station, as was the third-ranked coffee. The second-place winner was produced at a washing station that has adopted all BAP-promoted technologies to improve quality. The jury described the top coffee as “complex, pleasing and intricate with a curious mixture of flavors, body, acidity, and feel found nowhere else in the world.”

Efforts to improve coffee quality in Burundi began in 2008. The government relaxed regulations pertaining to the sales of Burundian’s green coffee, and began privatization of the sector. Since then, Burundian coffee washing stations have negotiated direct sales with specialty buyers from the United States, Japan, Europe, Korea, and others.

In addition to training coffee producers on agronomic best practices for coffee, BAP assisted a total of 41 coffee washing stations in producing for the specialty coffee market through improved processing practices (cherry selection and flotation, single fermentation, pre-drying, pyramidal drying), day lot traceability as well as hygiene.

This 2012 Cup of Excellence competition shows a direct correlation between adoption of best practices and high scores. “We have learned the importance of processing coffee cherries immediately upon arrival, protecting against the sun to prevent the coffee parchment from drying too quickly, and have adopted the use of cherry flotation for the first time,” said Christian Manicanye, who works at the top prize-winning coffee washing station.

At the end of the competition, two members of Burundi’s national jury were selected participate in the international jury. One is a female student at the University of Ngozi and the second is from the State Certification Lab managed by the Burundi Coffee Regulatory Agency. Both benefited from training on cupping through BAP from the Alliance for Coffee Excellence and received the Q-Graders and Star Cupper’s certification from the Coffee Quality Institute.

The major impact of this competition, however, should not be viewed as the price paid for the lots that were auctioned, but more that Burundi, as a coffee origin, joins the ranks of the world’s specialty coffee elite. As Cassien Nibaruta puts it, “I did not participate in the Cup of Excellence to earn a fortune but for the positive publicity it creates for my business and Burundi in general. I bet on producing high-quality coffee, even if it is only in small quantities.”

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