Almost all of the coffees I write about here on the blog are those I have purchased as green stock and roasted myself. This has been an intentional approach as the aim of my coffee writing here was never to be a café or coffee review site as such.
So what exactly, is the aim? As I’ve mentioned in the past, it is to share my enthusiasm for learning more about this humble brew which brings so many of us together across the globe. Part of this has always included looking into the growing regions and farms where these coffees are produced (assuming such information is available), and the Musumba Hill co-operative in the African nation of Burundi is what I’d like to explore a little further today.
I picked up a bag of the Burundi Musumba from Strauss in Brisbane’s CBD when the coffee was featured as part of a regular rotation of guest roasters.
Burundi is a small country in east Africa, covering almost 28,000 square kilometres, has a population of 10.4 million people, and is served by the capital Bujumbura. It shares borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania (the latter two are of course being well-regarded coffee producing countries in their own right).
The Burundi country profile on the BBC News site reports:
Burundi, one of the world’s poorest nations, is struggling to emerge from a 12 year, ethnic based civil war…
The ethnic violence sparked off in 1994 made Burundi the scene of one of Africa’s most intractable conflicts
Burundi is a landlocked, resource-poor country with an underdeveloped manufacturing sector. Agriculture accounts for over 40% of GDP and employs more than 90% of the population. Burundi’s primary exports are coffee and tea, which account for 90% of foreign exchange earnings
The Facebook goes on to say Burundi’s GDP in 2015 was an estimated $7.711 billion, placing it at number 164 compared with the rest of the world’s countries. Further political unrest in 2015 resulted in disruptions to the flow of agricultural goods due to blocked transportation routes. It is hoped funding assistance from the World Bank will help restore this infrastructure and again lower transport costs.
The median age of Burundi’s inhabitants is 17 years, and life expectancy at birth is 60.09 years, placing it at a lowly 197 compared with other countries throughout the world. In reporting on population estimates, the Factbook also has a side note which sadly, is not uncommon for many African countries:
…estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected
The sites I have quoted above contain significantly more information than I have pulled out and presented here, and a Google search will provide an ongoing timeline of unrest and turmoil, with a report in The Guardian just a few days ago outlining a UN report alleging human rights violations and high risk of a “spiral of mass violence” in the country. The government has since denied the allegations.
An optimistic, yet cautious James Hoffmann writing about Burundi in The World Atlas of Coffee (2014):
With 650,000 families dependent on the crop, movements towards higher prices through improvement of quality can only be a good thing. However, the constant fear of political instability returning looms large
Of course my intention is not to simply paint a negative picture of Burundi, however I do wish to point out the significant challenges faced by its coffee producers, and am thoroughly amazed anything is produced at all, let alone processed, shipped, and resulting in the quality of cup I can enjoy sitting here in my lounge room.
The disconnect between where this coffee originates, and where it is now being brewed and consumed is stark, a fact which also makes the Long Miles Coffee Project so remarkable.
The Long Miles Coffee Project
I have now been sitting in front of a blinking cursor for quite a few minutes in an attempt to put some words around the story that is Long Miles, however this is probably best done by the Carlson family’s Long Miles Coffee Project website:
We are a small American family living in Burundi, which is smack dab in the heart of east Africa. We are passionate about producing amazing coffee and caring for the well-being of the coffee farmers who grow it. We weren’t always coffee producers. First, we were a family with a dream.
Part of that dream? Working with Burundi’s farmers and growers to facilitate direct working arrangements with the world’s coffee roasters. Another part? Building a washing station to enable better quality control and price guarantees for local farmers.
I highly recommend perusing the posts on the site’s blog, where you’ll find writing such as that of June 9, 2015, about the family’s need to exit the troubled nation:
I had heard heavy gunfire all morning but after weeks of violent protests, that was nothing new. We had been sending them off to school with the sound of tear gas bombs as their soundtrack. This day was somehow different; suddenly I felt my gut turn and I just knew — the time to get to school was NOW
Only to return in April of this year in time for the next harvest:
There just has to be hope, and it’s there for the choosing. So, on the back of one of Burundi’s darkest days, we began packing. I don’t call this choice bravery or stupidity (it’s been called both) – I just call it ours. Our choice to be home. Our choice to sink our roots into the soil of Burundi, come what may
Other inspirational, humbling, and even amusing stories on the blog from some of the coffee farmers themselves show just what a difference one family has made to the lives of many.
There are a couple of thoughts which repeatedly come to mind as I sit here and write about this fine coffee from Burundi, the country itself, and the Long Miles Coffee Project.
In the first instance, many of us have enthusiasm and passion. Fewer have a call to action, and fewer still, uproot their families and plant them in one of the poorest, most politically unstable countries on the planet. The result? Touching the lives of those less fortunate in a way that will go a long way to securing (as much as it can) the future generations of Burundi coffee farmers and their families.
It is a story worth telling.
Speaking of which, you could say there may at times be a sense of “story fatigue” in specialty coffee. Of course every coffee has its own origin story — equally as valid and important as the one I am passing on to you here. Reading a little further on the plight of farmers in Burundi however, reinforces that these are not only stories on the back of a coffee bag. These are real people, often struggling to survive each and every day, in conditions we in our comfortable lives will never experience.
Again, I urge you to visit the Long Miles Coffee Project website to see more examples of this great work for yourself — some of which has resulted in this fine coffee from the Musumba Hill co-operative finding its way to, and being roasted at, Monastery Coffee in Adelaide, Australia.
Information courtesy Monastery Coffee
- Burundi Musumba Natural
- Roaster: Monastery Coffee, Adelaide, Australia
- Washing Station: Bukeye
- Organisation: Long Miles Coffee Project
- Region: Kayanza
- Country: Burundi
- Processing: Natural
- Elevation: 1,800 m
- Varietals: Heirloom Bourbon
- Tasting notes: Strawberry, Chocolate, Spices
This lot received a lot of attention – a dedicated team of 4 women stir and monitor the coffee cherries throughout the day on raised ‘drying beds’ to maintain even drying of the coffee,
At the time of writing, the coffee is available directly from Monastery (AU$18.00; 250 g); free shipping within Australia.
Being a filter roast, the majority of my consumption has been through a V60 drip filter, and to a lesser extent an AeroPress. If I had to choose, the V60 makes a cleaner, more nuanced cup —as you’d expect.
In terms of flavour, it is after all, an African Naturally processed coffee, and with that you will find the requisite fruit bomb in the cup. Think strawberry, yes, however as the brew cools a little, things begin to open up even more. The mouthfeel becomes a little creamier, and as the acidity rises, those strawberry flavours really concentrate, moving through strawberries and cream, to almost a red cordial of sorts.
A description such as the one above may sound like an overpowering trip down the “red” spectrum of flavours however that is not the case at all, simply descriptors which came to mind as I worked my way through the brew one afternoon. If we were sticking with the coffee favour wheel, then strawberry in abundance is definitely where I’d pin it. The acidity is spot on, it has medium body and a lingering finish, being a joy to sip and saviour.
As espresso — yes, I run all of my filter roasts through a longer shot out of curiosity, and here those strawberry flavours dominate again, with a hint of chocolate. As a milk drink it stands up pretty well, however the acidity is a shade high as an espresso — though of course is again not surprising in a filter roast.
This coffee from the Musumba Hill co-operative itself? Well, it’s a beauty, and is an example of adversity resulting in greatness. I’d highly recommend picking some up if you get the chance.
For me, this post has been part coffee exploration and part geopolitical discovery, combined with a healthy reminder about where these coffees actually come from and the lives of those who produce them. If this post does nothing else, at least click-through to the Long Miles Coffee Project site, and browse the faces and words of those dedicated coffee farmers.
When you next sip your favourite brew — remember them.