This microlot comes from Gahahe station, located in the town of the same name, in the Kayanza province of northwest Burundi, near the border of Rwanda and just to the northeast of Lake Tanganyika.
Like Ethiopia and other east African coffee producing countries, coffee lots from Burundi are comprised of many small pickings of coffee cherry delivered to a wet mill, or washing station. The average smallholder bringing coffee cherry to Gahahe has about 25o heirloom bourbon coffee trees on their property and in their yard. These varietals can produce good quality, but because of the age of the plants—most of them are pushing fifty years old–and a lack of access to fertilizer, the trees do not produce very much fruit. Each tree yields only around three or four pounds of coffee cherries, or about a half pound of green coffee, post-processing.
The dry fragrance of the coffee is sweet, with a vaguely masa-like accent. Or is it marshmallow? I’m not sure, but it’s mellow and pleasant. I’ve also found a red floral nuance, or maybe it’s cacao, or molasses, sitting way in background. It’s not prominent, but it makes the dry fragrance that much more intriguing, and appealing. When the grounds are wet, the aromatics and flavors start moving toward lemon, lemonade, and sweet tea. I don’t find it to be a really tannic coffee at all. Instead, the tea is more jasmine-like in character, with mild caramels supporting white and yellow florals and fruits. While most east African coffees are bright and top-heavy, the Gahahe provides balance and an easy-going demeanor that, we think, will please even folks who don’t usually reach for Africa as a first choice for their morning cup.
Coffees from Burundi are susceptible to something known as “potato taste defect.” It comes from bacteria (common on coffee farms in Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and parts of a few other east African countries) that can infect a coffee fruit if its skin is cut or punctured. The bacteria produces a pyrazine (wine geeks may know this chemical as the origin of grassy and bell peppery flavors in Sauvignon Blanc and Cab Franc) which is harmless, but the flavor and aroma it produces in coffee is pretty off-putting. If a bean in your coffee bag has this chemical, you’ll know it, as after grinding, your kitchen will smell like dried, raw potato skin. There’s no effective or foolproof way to sort them out during processing or roasting, so a spoiled cup or pot every once in a while is the cost of doing business when utilizing coffee from these countries. We think the risk is worth it, as the coffee from Burundi—as you’ll soon find out—can be dynamite. Beyond this fact, we think it would be unfair and extreme to forgo purchasing a particular coffee from a country that depends upon coffee as a primary export because of an unpreventable defect appearing in a fraction of a fraction of a percent of green beans. That said, we don’t expect you to bear the cost of the defect, so if you do encounter one, and so have to throw out grounds that you were prepping for your morning pot, please let us know, and we’ll refund you a few bucks or send you some extra beans next time around. You can also minimize your risk by grinding your coffee in multiple smaller doses, instead of one larger one. And don’t worry about drinking it. It’s harmless. It just makes the coffee earthy and vegetal.
Producer: smallholder farmers, Gahahe Station
Location: Gahahe, Kayanza
Elevation: 1800 MASL
Varietal: red bourbon
Process: washed, raised bed dried