At JNP Coffee, we specialize in sourcing outstanding specialty coffee from Burundi.
Coffee is a crucial part of the Burundian economy, accounting for over 80% of the country's exports. Almost all coffee in the country is grown by smallholder farmers and cooperatives.
Let’s take a closer look at Burundi coffee, focusing on production, processing methods, and cup profile – plus some insights into what you can expect from the 2023/24 harvest.
Burundi coffee production
While Burundi does not export as much coffee as other East African countries, it is renowned for producing outstanding quality – and unique flavor profiles.
Burundi is located in a mountainous area of Africa, forming part of the Albertine Rift in the Great Rift Valley. Coffee farms can be found across the country, but are mainly concentrated in the northwest.
Burundi coffee is enjoyed in many coffee-consuming markets around the world, but the biggest export markets include Europe, the US, and Africa. Germany and Sweden, in particular, have seen particular growth in the last few years.
The coffee harvest season runs from March or April until mid July, while the marketing year typically starts in April and ends in March the following year.
The 2023/24 Burundi coffee harvest
However, while yields have fallen in recent years in certain regions of the country – specifically Kayanza Province – there are still more than 25 million coffee trees planted across 60,000 hectares in Burundi. Almost all of these are maintained by smallholder Burundian coffee farmers – of which there are more than 800,000.
“We are seeing a good yield from Ngozi and Muyinga provinces, but they’re still a little smaller than last year,” Jeanine says. “This is in large part because of the typical crop cycle. I also have to note unusually high temperature levels at higher altitudes compared to past years.”
This crop cycle means that in some years, coffee yields fluctuate by as much as 30%. Many coffee trees are decades old, and as a result, productivity has suffered.
However, the US Department of Agriculture is funding a Technoserve project in Burundi. The Burundi Better Coffee Initiative is working across the value chain to increase the coffee incomes and climate resilience of up to 60,000 coffee farming families.
In March, JNP Coffee gathered wet mill managers and staff in Bujumbura to share information and knowledge about coffee processing. Jeanine says that she hopes opportunities like this will improve quality and consistency through the 2023/24 harvest and beyond.
“Our partners gained a wealth of knowledge on coffee processing, standards, and protocols, which they were able to apply immediately in their work,” she adds. “It was a truly enriching experience for all involved.”
Coffee processing in Burundi
Both fully washed and natural Burundi coffee is popular (and currently available from our list of micro lots) but Jeanine says that this year, it’s the naturals that have received the most attention. Natural Burundi coffees generally have a pronounced fruity cup profile, lower acidity and a fuller body.
Jeanine adds that JNP Coffee’s fully washed coffees also have an incredible flavor profile. This, she says, is because Burundi has a long history of processing fully washed coffees, in comparison to its neighboring countries in East Africa. She adds that each year, quality is increasing with the application of new tools and skills.
“Our fully washed coffees are prized for their double and triple-washed process that accentuates the legendary brightness of Burundi coffee,” Jeanine explains. “It’s not just the traditional washing that occurs at most washing stations.”
In this process, the coffee cherries are floated, before being pulped and subjected to overnight fermentation.
Next, the cherries are washed again to remove the mucilage, before being moved to clean tanks for the third and final washing stage. Finally, drying takes place on raised beds, giving workers a chance to scan for any remaining defects.
“All of our parchment coffees are processed at selected dry mills in Burundi, where they undergo another triple manual sorting process for even greater quality assurance,” Jeanine adds. “Then they are packed in either GrainPro or vacuum-sealed bags.”
Some of our experimental processing coffees also now undergo 24 to 72 hours of anaerobic fermentation before they’re dried. This means that they’re kept in an oxygen-free environment first, before being allowed to ferment on raised drying beds – technically resulting in double fermented Burundi coffee.
Does Burundi’s coffee industry face any challenges?
Domestic coffee consumption in Burundi presents a challenge for the local market. Jeanine says that it will take some time to change consumer behaviors.
“This will require a shift in the culture and education around coffee and its values,” she says. “With 67% of the population below the age of 25, training and educating Burundian youth about coffee and promoting the health benefits of coffee will help propel an increase in local consumption.”
Jeanine adds that the biggest challenges for Burundi coffee are access to education, financing, easy transportation of cherries to the nearest wet mills, and financing. This year, the high fuel cost and increased cost of living has created additional challenges for the trade.
The cherry price also increased from 850 FBU per kilogram last year to 1280 FBU kilogram in 2023. At the same time, coffee is trading at around $1.60 per pound, compared to over $2.00 per pound in 2022.
Creating solutions at JNP Coffee
“In order to overcome challenges, we need to continue providing farmers education in coffee farming and tools for income diversification through coffee,” Jeanine asserts.
As part of this JNP Coffee works to address infrastructure issues on the ground. For example, when the company began working with women coffee producers in the Ngozi province, there was simply no road access in the area. With the assistance of local farmers, they built new roads and later a new wet mill.
Beyond this, there is also the Dushime® program. This is a premium payment program which supports coffee producers in Burundi. Under the program, farmers receive the fixed local cherry price, followed by a second payment based on the price the coffee eventually earns.
“Second Payment Day has become a celebration for producers and their families,” says Jeanine. “This program has made so many lives better, sent so many children to school, and expanded more farm holdings.”
Estimates indicate that these second payments make up as much as 25% of a farmer’s annual earnings. So far, JNP Coffee has paid farmers over US $500,000 in second payments in total.
Not only does this encourage farmers and producers to focus on coffee quality, this premium also gives women producers more say – and spending power – in a traditionally male-dominated agricultural sector.
Furthermore, if yields are lower than a farmer expects, then this program ensures they have enough additional capital on hand to invest in their farm for the year ahead.
To learn more information on current coffee offerings from JNP Coffee, read more here.