This is our fifth year buying coffee from Kibingo, and their coffee offers everything I love in classic Burundian coffee but with an extra level of refinement. After tasting this elegant cup, it comes as no surprise that Kibingo’s coffees took both 1st and 2nd place spots at the illustrious 2017 Cup of Excellence competition. Kibingo was built a long time ago in 1986 in the Kayanza Commune in the Kayanza province, close to the Congo-Nile Crest. The name 'Kibingo' comes from the Kirundi word urubingo, which means 'reeds'. Reeds were planted along the river to contain the water and to prevent the surrounding soils from eroding.
It’s not an easy life farming coffee in Africa, and Burundi especially faces a number of unique challenges. Burundi is considered the 2nd poorest country in the world, by GDP as of 2023, and it faced recent considerable political instability after a failed military coup in 2015. Thankfully, at least from a political point of view, things are more stable now in 2023. However, on my recent trip (July 2023), I saw the country grappling with major fuel shortages and a recent full currency recall in an attempt to root out corruption.
Despite witnessing many challenges, my trips to Burundi have been amazing and very eye-opening. There is nothing like being on the ground to really get a true sense of the unique environment and people behind the country.
On my July 2023 trip, I visited the Kibingo mill again, as well as the Greenco lab. I was heartened to see that the lab protocols still incorporated some feedback I offered 4 years prior! I always strive to have each trip be more than just about buying coffee from that season and have them make a meaningful lasting impact, even if small.
Kibingo processes coffee from a staggering 3,553 farmers who cultivate a total of just over a million coffee trees. Some quick math puts the average number of trees per farmer at 284 trees, small farmers indeed. Kibingo’s coffee is 95% traceable to individual farmers using Metajua. Metajua is a data collection system that works with basic farmer (Nokia) cell phones. This very useful data ostensibly gives Kibingo’s owner, Greenco, a fully traceable supply chain to the farm-level. It’s not clear to me how they use this data, but gathering it is certainly a powerful step to understanding the quality produced by so many different individual farmers.
Greenco works with a sister non-profit company called the Kahawatu Foundation to carry out sustainability initiatives in Burundi. In their own words: Kahawatu aims to support East African coffee producing communities to achieve economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Good stuff, in my books. Some tangible activities they undertake are Agricultural best practices training, Health Insurance for farmers, Livestock solidarity chains, Women’s economic empowerment, financial literacy, gender workshops, youth engagement.
A major concern of mine with Burundian coffees is the dreaded potato taste defect (PTD). For those unfamiliar, a single tainted bean can cause a whole pot of coffee to taste like raw potato or rotten green pepper. You can even smell it in the roasted beans without grinding. It’s for this reason that I’m very careful when I buy Burundian coffees. I taste many, many cups prior to buying, and more importantly, I need to know about the processes that the full chain of custody undergoes to avoid the defect.
Kibingo is very strong on this front. Starting at the farm level, they train farmers to control Antestia pests (thought to open the pathway to the bacterial infection which causes the flavor taint), then their wet mill employs cherry flotation to remove cherries that might have been infected. But the heavy lifting takes place at the Budeca Dry Mill, owned by exporter Sucafina. They have sunk a lot of research into finding a solution to the problem and have introduced UV light sorting. The UV light allows them to remove individual beans with (Antestia) insect bites prior to exporting the green coffee. This step in the milling process is quite rare, and it’s amazing to see a commitment to dealing with the PTD.
This green coffee was frozen, as always, to preserve freshness.