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How to roast Burundi coffee

No two lots of Burundi coffee are the same. This is important to remember for players all across the supply chain – from baristas and homebrewers to green coffee buyers and roasters.

burundi coffee in cupping cups

It’s no understatement that roasters need to develop a profile for each lot to get the best out of each Burundi coffee they buy. But some general points can help guide them in the right direction.

To gain more insight into how to roast Burundi coffee, we spoke to JNP Coffee partner Joe Coffee Company and our founder Jeanine Niyonzima-Aroian. Read on to learn how you can get the best out of Burundi coffee when roasting it.

burundi coffee in scale

Burundi coffee sensory profiles

Burundi coffee gets its distinct flavors from the country’s unique terroir. Essentially, this refers to the various conditions that contribute to agriculture in a specific area, including:

● Soil quality

● Climate, including rainfall and temperature

● Altitude

● The surrounding natural environment

● The area’s unique agricultural practices, from production to processing

In Burundi, nutrient-rich volcanic soil and high rainfall levels of approximately 1,200mm (about 47 inches) per year create the perfect environment for arabica coffee production. Broadly speaking, coffee professionals associate this with the syrupy-sweet end of the flavor spectrum.

"Generally, Burundi coffee has floral and fruity features,” says JNP Coffee founder Jeanine Niyonzima-Aroian.

She adds that Burundian coffees often have a distinct sensory profile with bright acidity, a lingering, candy-like finish, and juicy, tropical fruit notes.

Amaris Gutierrez-Ray is the Senior Director of Coffee and Roasting at Joe Coffee Company in New York City. She agrees that Burundi coffees are unique.

Joe Coffee Company collaborates with us to roast exceptional Burundian coffee. In particular, Amaris and her team love to buy coffee sourced from producer members of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance’s (IWCA) Burundi chapter.

“It truly takes a village [to produce coffee],” Amaris explains. “I think the spirit of community organizing and inclusivity of the IWCA chapter in Burundi is exceptional and their story should be told everywhere.”

She emphasizes that what she loves most about Burundi coffee are its caramelized sugar flavors and dried fruit-like sweetness – paired with what she says is a “soft but nuanced” acidity.

red cherries on drying bed

Common Burundi coffee varieties

Heirloom Bourbon is the most common arabica variety grown throughout Burundi. Two of its subvarieties, Jackson and Mibirizi, are also widely cultivated.

These three varieties can be cultivated anywhere from 1,200 to 1,950 meters (3,937 to 6,397 feet) above sea level. This high altitude – combined with suitable levels of rainfall – allows the cherries to develop and mature more slowly, resulting in higher sugar content and a fuller body.

“Burundi coffee beans are generally smaller,” Jeanine says. “This means they’re more dense than coffee beans from other origin countries.”

Because of this density relative to their size, Amaris adds that it’s vital for producers to pay close attention during drying to ensure that enough moisture is removed.

Processing methods

Washed and natural processing are the most popular methods used in Burundi coffee production. However, Amaris notes that washed coffees are more common in Burundi.

She adds, however, that she’s also enjoyed some fantastic Burundi naturals, including those roasted by Snowy Owl.

“I'm a big fan of naturals, even if our customers aren't as familiar with the process,” she adds. “It's lovely to know that these are processes that farmers in Burundi are equally capable of producing – and producing well.”

farmers looking at beans on drying bed

So, how should you roast Burundi coffee?

Generally, the high sugar levels in Burundi coffee mean that roasters have to approach the coffee in a very specific way.

Amaris recommends starting with high charge temperatures (as you generally should with high-density coffee) to account for the lack of air and compact bean structure.

This helps to ensure you heat the center of the bean quickly without scorching the edges. Once you do that, you can safely decrease the heat and rely on the roast's momentum to develop those sugars and bring out the amazing flavors Burundi coffee is so well known for.

However, Amaris adds that considering the higher-than-usual moisture content is important, too. She says that the denser the lot, the smaller the batch should be.

“We roast on a Loring, so we've found it's essential to start with a higher charge than usual, and then use a ‘soak’ approach,” Amaris explains. “Slowly adding heat accounts for sufficient drying to set all the other roast phases up for success.

“We choose to roast these coffees on the lighter side to highlight that balance and permit the acidity to be really appreciated in the cup,” Amaris elaborates.

Typically, washed coffees can benefit from slightly higher temperatures throughout. Naturals, however, are more prone to scorching if too much heat is introduced at the wrong time, so their roasting recipe should require longer development and caramelization times.

jeanine and farmers picking cherries off tree

Sourcing outstanding Burundi coffee

At JNP Coffee, we offer some of the best high-quality Burundian coffee sourced in a socially sustainable manner. Choosing to roast our coffees, you support and empower Burundian coffee producers.

“The more we’ve learned about how JNP Coffee and the communities where it works are engaging with gender equity, the more we have been inspired,” Amaris concludes. “I truly believe those are the details that make a cup of coffee so much more powerful to anyone who drinks it.

“It can make us feel encouraged and empowered to match their energy and be forward-thinking in our own lives and businesses.”

To view our latest Burundi coffee offerings, see here.


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