Karehe (pronounced car-aire) Washing Station focuses on cherry ripeness and sorting in order to provide only the highest-quality green coffee post-processing. Producers are paid immediately upon delivery of the cherry at a standard market price, and a second payment is done when the harvest is complete; if the coffee is bought with quality premiums for cup score, the producers get a bonus in the second payment.
Burundi is a small landlocked country at the crossroads of East and Central Africa, straddling the crest of the Nile-Congo watershed. Sandwiched between Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, Burundi has beautiful Lake Tanganyika for much of its western border. This is a country dominated by hills and mountains, with considerable altitude variation, from the lowest point being the lake at 772 meters above sea level (MASL) to the top of Mount Heha at 2670 MASL.
Coffee has a similar history here as neighbouring Rwanda. These are wet-processed coffees, but often employ a two-stage fermentation method, as you might find in Kenya. Their practices in coffee wet-milling are definitely good, provided they are followed. If the coffee that is selected includes unripe cherry, a good washing station will ask the farmer to sort these particular cherries out. The under-ripe coffee can still be submitted separately at some stations and often are purchased for the same price in order to avoid penalizing the farmer (this needs to be considered in terms of quality – stations that pay on different scales based on quality of cherry selection motivates the farmer to pick better).
Coffee farming was introduced by the Belgians to Burundi with the first Arabica coffee tree arriving in the early 1930s and has been growing in the country ever since. Coffee cultivation is an entirely small holder based activity with over 800,000 families directly involved in coffee farming. Their combined total acreage is roughly 60,000 hectares in the whole country and planted with about 25 million coffee trees.
Like Rwanda, Burundi is primarily planted in Bourbon, which is grown at high altitudes ranging from 1250 to 2000 MASL. Also similar to Rwanda, smallholder farmers of Burundi tend to about 50 to 250 trees. Historically, coffee from the area was sold as bulked “Ngoma Mild” coffee (Ngoma is a traditional drum). The farmers would bring their coffee to local washing stations, which along with 20-30 other wet mills, made up the Sogestal. All of the coffee collected from the Sogestal members would be blended, and separating qualities was not possible.
Several years ago the coffee market was “liberalized”. This meant that individual washing stations could now keep coffees separate, and then market the individual lots to buyers by station, “day lots”, or processing batches. With this comes the new possibility to find gems that were formerly mixed in with the not-so-good lots. So new possibilities are emerging in Burundi, and it is a coffee to watch.
Like Rwanda and, to a lesser extent, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi battles the infamous “potato defect,” a microorganism that contributes a raw-potato-like flavour and aroma to infected beans, and which can’t be detected by sight in parchment, green, or roasted coffee. Research efforts to eradicate the defect completely have shown promise, and we look forward to the day when the potato defect is a distant memory.