While this coffee tastes really good, it’s important to appreciate the plethora of challenges facing Burundi. While Covid was top of mind in coffee consuming countries, in many ways, it took a back seat in coffee growing countries as they faced more dire challenges. In Burundi, the biggest issue is production volumes due to a number of factors, exasperated by the pandemic. There is a dearth of fertilizer in the country, and it’s illegal to purchase it direct from outside the country. Maximizing yields (or even just getting good ones), relies on being able to fertilize, and orders are consistently shorted and delayed from Burundi’s national coffee board (the only source for it). The other big issue in 2021 is that part-way through the season the national coffee board banned transit centres. Transit centres are delivery stations (aka coffee cherry collection points), which allow farmers that are a greater distance away from the washing station to deliver to quality mills and receive a better price. I think this issue alone accounts for the majority of the reduction in quality coffee available, as top-tier washing stations such at Yandaro can only collect cherry from farmers in close proximity.
Despite these challenges, we can and should still celebrate this delicious coffee and the dedicated hands that made it possible. I very much missed my annual trips to Burundi these last two years, and I hope to start them back up soon!
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 tastes to avoid the defect.
Yandaro 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 heartening to see a commitment to dealing with the PTD.
This green coffee was frozen, as always, to preserve freshness.