I think one of the best parts of traveling - besides learning about fascinating cultures and meeting amazing people - is the fresh and local produce. I just ate a bundle of bananas for lunch and I'm thrilled about it. In Rwanda and Burundi, the bananas have an acidity to them and taste like lemonade. No joke. The avocados, the melons, the citruses, you name it, it's off the charts - just like the coffee.
We've just spent a day and a half in Burundi. It's our first time visiting the country. We landed in Rwanda on Monday night and drove out first thing Tuesday. They're both incredibly small countries in the East of Africa and both fascinating in their own regard.
The drive from Kigali to Ngozi, where we spent the night, was about three and a half hours. On a map it doesn't look like it should have taken that long, but it's quite the trek. Once you hit the border and wait for the officials to stamp your passport to allow entry, you have to change cars because it's more convenient with the corresponding license plate. Then, you wait at half a dozen random police check-stops.
When we arrived in Ngozi, we went straight to the cupping lab/office of Green Co. They're a very well renowned company in the Burundi coffee industry, as they were awarded 8 of the top 10 coffees in Cup of Excellence (COE) in 2017, and have a similar track record for previous seasons. It's pretty insane to dominate like that. Our visit was very early in their harvest, so we were only able to cup the crop from last year's COE. This gave us an idea of the flavour profiles to expect when they...(?)
From there, we went to two nearby stations they own called, Nemba and Masha. Both of which have similar set ups for consistency's sake. Similar to Rwanda, they strictly grow Red Bourbon and, for the most part, do washed coffees. We spent some time at both washing stations, got to meet the full-time teams, and see their drying tables, some processing and operations at each. This consumed the rest of the day, as the sun is down by 6pm here. We retired back to the hotel. Then went to a nearby restaurant for a Burundian meal of goat leg, french fries and, thankfully, a bit of salad.
We realized how off the grid we were when we left the restaurant and the streets were completely dark. There were no street lights in or lighting in Ngozi to guide you. Yet, it seemed as if everyone who lived in Ngozi was on the streets socializing, drinking or eating. We made it back to the hotel, navigating the streets with just the headlights on the truck (we were not driving). As we were settling in and getting ready to call it a night, the power went out at the hotel. Thankfully, this only lasted about 5 minutes and the darkness was replaced by the sound of a generator running outside. Just in time for us to turn the lights off and call it a night.
We woke up early then next morning, mostly thanks to the roosters and the groups of joggers that sing while they run, to meet with a small producer named Zuberi. He was very excited to hear we were interested in seeing his projects, Mpanga and Businde. These are washing stations that are also buying cherry from surrounding coffee farmers and producing the majority as washed coffee. Both, however, had some naturals that we had mixed impressions about. Some of the tables were clean and uniform and looked very promising, others had poor cherry selection, little to no sorting and far too much cherry on one bed. We gave our feedback and hopefully Zuberi took it to heart. He seems very interested in becoming the best specialty coffee producer in Burundi.
With visiting the two scales of coffee producers in Burundi, we feel as if we can add more value to Zuberi and help him out, although the quality of his coffee won't be as high as Green Co. this season. This to us is the beauty of establishing relationships with coffee producers. We can communicate throughout the year and discuss ideas and collaborate on improvements or innovations. Similar to how we communicate with other countries - such as Rwanda and our partners Muraho Trading Co. We're actually driving back to Kigali right now to meet with and visit their amazing stations for a second straight season. Stay tuned to see updates from our visits last year. FYI, some of these tasty Rwandans are still on the menu.
Burundi will hopefully be available on the menu late this year.
Zuberi wondering why we're applying white lotion to all our exposed skin