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Cupping Across Time Zones, Connecting with New Markets

In the span of one month, I will have cupped in Rwanda, Burundi and Seattle! Come taste delicious Burundi coffees from the current harvest at SCA on Friday, April 20. We’ll be in the Cupping Exchange area, Room 619 at 8:30 am, sponsored by the African Fine Coffee Association (AFCA). Be sure to ask me about my whirlwind journey, as I just unpacked my bags from a USAID-sponsored trip to Rwanda – with a stopover in Burundi to attend my first board meeting as a majority shareholder in a washing station conglomerate.

Cupping earliest 2018 harvest

I was an invited guest of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), one of four coffee buyers. Agency staff and escorts from the AFCA filled out our group.

We flew into Kigali, visiting several large coffee companies. The specialty coffee industry in Rwanda is still in its infancy when compared with the decades of operations in neighboring Burundi, which shares Rwanda’s southern border.

Inspecting storage at a dry mill

A truly beautiful country, Rwanda has gorgeous landscapes. The coffee region in the southwest is adjacent to Burundi’s fertile northwestern region.

That’s where I headed next, as Bujumbura is less than an hour’s flight away. I had a front-row seat to see the preparations underway for a successful harvest in Kayanza and Ngozi Provinces. The trees are looking healthy, the cherries bigger than last year, and women farmers are taking the right steps to ensure both the quality and traceability of their cherries.

Signs of good cherries ahead

Each washing station now has additional staff to supervise the proper sorting and labeling of the cherries brought in for harvest. While many washing stations are open until midnight during the harvest season, those associated with JNP Coffee will only collect the cherries in daylight hours to ensure the highest quality.

My next stop was a board meeting held in the same region, where I am the majority private shareholder of a conglomerate of close to two dozen washing stations, six of which process our women’s coffees. I am happy to be serving on this new board, together with only one other woman.

Visiting our women coffee producers

It was exciting to visit Rwanda, but for me, Burundi is home. I see so much potential in this land. Women are eager to learn more about coffee production and want access to the financial tools to help them manage their earnings. The nonprofit I founded 11 years ago, Burundi Friends International, can’t keep up with the demand for financial literacy training, education about leadership, and the power of savings groups.

Discussion with IWCA Burundi’s new President (left) and Quality Manager (at rear)

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