Everyone loves a good underdog story, this coffee is certainly one of those!
Burundi has traditionally not been known for it's stellar coffee. In fact, a number of factors have contributed to a history of the country producing some pretty sub-par coffee. First off, Burundi is land locked, this makes export and access to global markets extremely difficult. Secondly, clean water is scarce and a necessary component of specialty coffee production. Add a history of political unrest and mass genocide, and you don't have an easy place to even start thinking about producing a specialty product. Furthermore, pests have plagued coffee crops for years and Burundi had become known not for it's quality, but for a specific coffee defect flavor known as the "potato defect."
Enters Ben Carlson with Long Miles Coffee Project. A while back, Ben decided that there was potential in Burundi coffee and that the people there had the power to unlock it. He wanted to directly connect roasters and growers and in that process transform what we know about Burundi coffee. Quickly he realized the only way this was possible was to be on the ground in Burundi and to build a washing station.
A washing station is a place where farmers bring their ripe coffee cherries during harvest to begin "processing." Processing is the act of removing the fruit of a coffee cherry from the seed. The seed is the part we want, it's what we know as the coffee bean.
Washing stations are really important. Not only are they a crucial step in the chain to make quality coffee possible, but washing stations are a community. People gather here during harvest and they're really a bridge between farmers and exporters. At washing stations, 2-way communication can happen... the exporter can communicate with the farmer and vice versa. Needs can be expressed from both sides and solutions can be formed.
Ben and his team haven't stopped there. They've developed a number of social and educational programs in order to better the lives of farmers in Burundi and also have a great impact on their crops. One such program is called Coffee Scouts. Basically, Ben's team trains agronomists and other people in the community to rid the crops of the insect that causes the potato defect. This has been incredibly successful, and I have personally seen the result after having bought Long Miles Burundi over 3 seasons. Each year, I note less and less occurrences of the potato defect, and so far I have not discovered one instance in this year's purchase. Not only does this make the coffee taste better, but it can then also fetch a higher price in the specialty market.
*image:Long Miles Coffee Project
All these actions have lead to some incredible results and immense growth. Roasters now seek out Long Miles Burundi coffee, and Ben has taken his mission to surrounding neighbors and villages. The Long Miles team now works with hundreds of farmers near their home base.
One thing to note about Burundi and many other African coffee growing countries is that a typical farms in very small. Coffee is more likely to be a backyard crop rather than grown on huge farms. That being said, banding farmers together into groups is important in order to have enough coffee for export logistics to be efficient and also for resources to be distributed correctly. The Long Miles team have grouped their farmers by hill.
Our new coffee comes from the Nkonge Hill and is processed at the Heza washing station. This specific lot is naturally processed, again another indicator of progress and focus on quality. Naturally processing African coffee used to be just the cheap/easy way that yielded fermenty/funky coffee, but now it's yielding fruited, crisp, and delicate flavor profiles that are becoming wildly regarded for complexity.
Through many years of dedication and a number of important social and agricultural programs, the Long Miles team have put Burundi on the specialty coffee map and have done so in a way that honors the humans working the hardest at the farm level. Their blog is full of incredible stories.
We're incredibly excited and humbled to be able to roast this special coffee. It's been out for a few weeks now and is already selling faster then we could have imagined... but it makes sense, there's synergy when you combine passionate people and coffee. Also, it's freakin delicious! One of our tasting notes... blueberry waffle!