Some of the best coffees we have ever tasted in Burundi are already purchased and on the way.

We are now in our 3rd year in Burundi and we clearly see great improvement both from the producers end, and also regarding our ability to get things going on dry milling, internal logistics and shipping. We do now feel we are in control of the whole chain, and this is why we are stepping up and increasing volumes. We have locked in three containers this year mainly from three different producers. Still as everything is separated by area and days of picking we have about 25 lots with a very broad range of flavor profiles and lot sizes.

 

Two of the key persons we are working with in Burundi: Jeremy and Salum from CPC. Here seen at the drying tables at Buziraguhindwa.

Two of the key persons we are working with in Burundi: Jeremy and Salum from CPC. Here seen at the drying tables at Buziraguhindwa.

Selective purchasing

Generally it seemed to us that the quality was up this year, as it was relatively easy to find stand out coffees. And many of them were truly amazing! The great thing with our producers in Burundi is that they allow us to cup through all their daily lots to pick and choose what we like. We probably cupped through about 170 lots this year from the three producers. We kept some of them separate by day and area, and some smaller daily lots from the same collection sites was blended by us in to medium sized lots.

 

The potato issue

The biggest concern on Burundian and Rwandan coffee is the defect referred to as the potato flavor. This is known to be caused by the small bug called Antestia, even if there are still different theories about how it occurs. Either way this year it seemed to be generally less present in the coffees. It seems to vary from harvest to harvest, and also what we know is that you can reduce the amount by being very selective during the processing as well as hand sort parchment after washing to take out everything that looks defected. We are really encouraging all our producers to increase the level of sorting, and it truly helps!

We did some basic tests, and found that relatively few cups contained the potato defect compared to previous years.

We did some basic tests, and found that relatively few cups contained the potato defect compared to previous years.

 

Pre-financing

The biggest challenge for the producers in Burundi is generally pre-financing up front of the season. They all need cash to be able to start buying cherries. In most other countries it’s possible to access loans from the banks or micro finance from international organizations if your having contracted coffee up front of the season. In Burundi this options is still very limited. We have therefor started to partially pre-finance our producing partners. This means we are giving them an advance to secure our supply. This can in some cases be risky business, but as we have great relations and fully trust our producers it works out well. As we have limited cash flow our selves we are now working on a project to get a third party to do the pre-financing so they can access more. We will then have to give a guarantee for parts of it.

 

 

Location

Generally we have so far found the Kayanza district and it’s surroundings more interesting in terms of the flavors we are favoring. That said we are continuously looking for coffees from other regions. Kayanza is located in the north towards the Rwandan Akanyaru border. The altitude can be above 2000 masl, and many of the producers have long traditions in growing coffee. You have a mix of the governmental owned washing station under the Sogestal Kayanza, private producers with their own washing stations, and newly established cooperatives. We are currently working with a few private producers as well as a Cooperative.

 

 

Dry milling and logistics

Even if there is a lot of development in the coffee sector, and several new dry mills are being built the options are still limited. Many of the new dry mills are owned by companies that are both having their own washing stations, as well as they do a lot of lower graded home processed coffees known as ordinary. To get them to toll mill a bunch of micro lots is not always easy as they have to stop their larger scale production, which is understandable. This, as well as challenges on internal logistics from the different local warehouses and consolidation from different producers, can often cause big delays. We are currently dry milling at a local mill in Ngozi (close to Kayanza) called SIVCA that are used to small lots. They are also normally doing the Cup of Excellence coffees, and that way they know the drill on good hand sorting etc.

As we are buying our coffees directly from the producers now with no third party exporter involved we are buying the coffee FOT (free on truck), compared to our normal purchase wich is FOB (Free on board/boat). This means we are theoretically buying the coffee from the warehouse at the mill in Ngozi and are responsible our selves for all insurance and transport down to port as well as the shipping. This also means we generally have to pay the coffee earlier than if we buy it on FOB bases. As we now are well connected and thanks to our producer Salum Ramhadan at Buziraguhindwa we have found that for Burundi in particular it is worth the hassle, and it gives us a more efficient shipments. Salum is also helping us with consolidation off all the other coffees we are buying.

Overview of Buziraguhindwa. Lots from collection points at Nyabihanga and Sehe are  also processed here.

Overview of Buziraguhindwa. Lots from collection points at Nyabihanga and Sehe are also processed here.

 

Farming and production

All our producers are buying cherries from smallholders normally having some hundred trees each. If they are close enough to the washing station to deliver directly they pick everything from 5 to 100 kgs pr day and deliver it directly. Normally they get paid cash on the spot. In the case of producers buying cherries in more remote areas they normally have what is called site collectors, that represent the washing station and buy cherries on their behalf. They will get a small additional fee pr kg as well as they get paid for the transport to the washing station. This means that a daily lot of lets say 25 bags of greens can consist of coffee from some hundred growers.

This year the competition in Kayanza was hard, and for the premium qualities some of our producers paid closer to 60 cts pr kg of cherry, witch is equivalent to almost 4 USD pr kg of exportable green. They all have programs to incentivize the producers to deliver higher qualities and to attract more farmers. They are therefor paying prices well above the market price, but are trying to be more strict on the cherry quality.

 

CPC

Is the name of the company of Salum Ramadhan, that owns the washing station Buziraguhindwa. He is now constructing two more washing stations in and around Kayanza but in remote areas with plenty of high altitude coffees. He is already collecting cherries in many different areas. Even if they at this point all are processed at Buziraguhindwa they taste widely different depending on area of picking.

 

They are all processed the traditional way: first, the cherries are floated to skim off the lighter, defected, over-ripe cherries and so on. Then they are hand sorted for under-ripes and visual defects. After that they are processed by a McKinnon disc pulper, then fermented over night before washed and graded in channels. After that they are (in most cases) soaked again over night before moved to the skin drying tables to be intensively sorted while still wet.

Then the coffee goes out on the drying tables in the sun. He’s drying in relatively thick layers to slow down the process. It’s continuously moved and sorted during drying. It takes about 15 days with normal weather and not too much rain.

 

As mentioned he’s separating lots by areas and Collins. A Collin is the local (French) name of a hill top. This year we bought coffees from the areas Sehe, Nyabihanga, Shembati, Muruta and Buziraguhindwa.

Sehe, with an altitude of 2100 masl. CPC has just bought the land here and is ready for construction of a new washing station.

Sehe, with an altitude of 2100 masl. CPC has just bought the land here and is ready for construction of a new washing station.

 

Munkaze coffee

Is the name of the company and washing station of Ephrem Sebatigita. Ephrem has been working in coffee for decades, and have managed, designed and built both washing stations and dry mills. Mainly for others, but now he’s having he’s own project with a larger washing station in Kayanza as well as a micro mill closer to the Rwandan border in a very remote area. He’s working in close relation with groups of producers (farmer cooperatives) to secure he’s supply and as well to develop quality in partnership with the farmers. He’ also having he’s own small farm with some thousand coffee trees as well as other crops like fruits, berries and vegetables. At he’s main washing station he’s following more or less the same process as Salum. But he’s normally not doing soaking of the coffees after washing. He’s also doing a lot of experiments on processing, e.g. fermenting in recycled water from pulping and so on, and are separating coffees in tiny micro lots. This year we cupped through a bunch of three to six bag lots of parchment, to fulfill some blended micro lot selection. We bought 4 lots from everything of 4 to 35 bags. He’s increasing volumes and for next year we will see much more coffee from this guy.

 

Kazozanikawa Cooperative

Is also called Mpemba based on the location. This is a fairly young cooperative that have operated for about 4 years. It’s a small cooperative with very knowledgeable and discerning management and members. They have a small mill with a Penagos eco pulper. They are also doing flotation and a lot of selection at cherry reception. But as the Penagos pulper is also mechanically removing the mucilage as well as skin and pulp, they don’t have to ferment the coffees. The parchment goes to soaking thanks after pulping to sit over night before it is rinsed, steered to skim of floaters, before it’s going to the skin drying tables for sorting.

We bought coffee from them 2 years ago. Last year we intended to buy, but because of a small crop, and hardly any access to finance of cherry purchase they produced to small amounts. We are really glad they are back, and are hoping to consistently work with this cooperative for the future. We bought two different medium sized lots from them this year.

An overview of the Mpemba Cooperative, with drying tables in the foreground and storage and processing in the background.

An overview of the Mpemba Cooperative, with drying tables in the foreground and storage and processing in the background.

 

For previous posts on Burundi click here.

June 19 2014 — The first container of Costa Rican coffees has arrived in Oslo, and another is on its way to London — here’s a trip report from our visit earlier this year:

Costa Rica is a newer origin for Nordic Approach — we started small last year with a few lots from different micro-mills. This year we were happy to find even more interesting coffees on the table, and we’re bringing a variety of small lots from different producers to Europe.

A bit of background: generally, we are focusing on two regions: Tarrazu and the West Valley. Tarrazu is basically all coffee, everywhere you look — a bit less touristed and a little farther away from San Jose, with really high elevations up to 2000m and higher. Many of the mills there are producing primarily fully washed coffee, partially because the drying conditions are not ideal for honeys, and partially because their coffee is already tasting fantastic. West Valley is a little closer to the capital with altitudes up to 1800-1900m, and a more stable climate which makes honey-processing easier.

Eco-Pulper and drying table at Monte Copey micro-mill

Eco-Pulper and drying table at Monte Copey micro-mill

Micro-mills: In the last 5-10 years, more and more farmers have started their own “micro-beneficios” (micro-mills) to process coffee from their own small farms or those of their family members or neighbors. This is why you will see two names on most of our coffees — first the name of the micro-mill, then the name of the farm the coffee comes from, and of course the lot number. Many farms are only a few hectares.

These micro-mills all have mechanical demucilaging equipment (e.g. Eco Pulpers or similar) so they use less water — there are strict water regulations in Costa Rica. Most of the micro-millers are also progressive farmers, taking good care of their plants, separating farms and varietals, separating all lots by daily pickings before cupping, drying on raised beds, etc.

A lot of the farmers I talked to asked me about slow-drying (secado lento) — they had heard that the coffee performs better as it ages if dried on raised beds under shade, and almost every mill I visited either had two-level drying beds or were building them (or building more!)

Overall it’s a very good setup for identifying quality and implementing good processing practices. We were happy to see that many of the micro-mills we bought from last year were standouts on the tables we cupped — that’s a good sign.

Raised drying beds at Santa Rosa 1900 micro-mill

Raised drying beds, and some scenery, at Santa Rosa 1900 micro-mill

Multi-level drying beds for shade drying, Los Angeles micro-mill

Multi-level drying beds for shade drying, Los Angeles micro-mill

 

Honey processing: Partially in response to the water regulations, many farmers have been experimenting with different processing methods. Like many people, I’ve heard the term “honey process” and cupped “honey” coffees, but I didn’t really have a firm grasp on what it meant. I found that there are some variations on what constitutes a honey-processed coffee. The terms vary by farmer and by country — these are very similar to what are elsewhere called “pulped naturals” — but in Costa Rica the general categories are White, Yellow, Red, and Black honey. The determining factors are:

1) Mucilage: the first and most important criteria for what type of honey you’re getting. When put through the mechanical demucilager, the micro-mill can adjust for how much mucilage (sugars/pulp/mesocarp) to leave on the parchment. This can range from a fully washed coffee, where you remove as close to 100% of the sugars as possible, to a red/black honey, where you leave all the sugars on after removing the skin.

The general guidelines are:

White honey: 80-90% (or up to 100%) of mucilage removed

Yellow honey: 50-75% of mucilage removed

Red honey: 0-50% of mucilage removed

Black honey: minimum mucilage removed

2) Drying: making a honey coffee is not just a matter of setting your eco-pulper to the right level of sugar removal. Drying conditions also play a big role, especially in differentiating a red honey from a black honey. Oftentimes the farmer will not know which one it will be until the parchment has been drying for a few days, and depending on the amount of sugar coloration/fermentation on the outside of the parchment, it is classified as red or black honey.

All photos below are from Granitos de Ortiz micro-mill, where they had helpfully labeled different samples of the processes they do. They are a new mill that started up 1-2 years ago, they are already doing a great job and we’re really happy to be buying coffee from them this year.

Fully washed parchment

Fully washed parchment

Yellow honey parchment -- usually around 25% of mucilage left on

Yellow honey parchment — usually around 25% of mucilage left on

Red honey parchment -- between 50 - 100% of mucilage is left on the parchment. Becomes "red" or "black" depending on the drying conditions (weather) and how much the sugars ferment and color the parchment.

Red honey parchment — between 50 – 100% of mucilage is left on the parchment. Becomes “red” or “black” depending on the drying conditions (weather) and how much the sugars ferment and color the parchment.

Black honey

Black honey parchment. Usually 100% of the mucilage is left, and during drying it takes on a distinctively dark color. Generally, this means more processing flavor in the cup than red honey — but not always!

We’re excited to expand our relationship with Costa Rica and to offer more small lots from more micro-mills this year. The cup profiles can be very special, with great structure, complexity, and lots of sweetness. We also think that there is a lot of potential to work long-term with these micro-mills, even to do experiments on varieties and processing with individual farmers.

Coffees have arrived to Oslo and more are coming to the UK, so stay tuned!

-Alec

Incoming coffee, and an update on politics:

We have bought a bunch of great Kenyans, and some are already on the way to Eniti in the UK. They will arrive around the 25th of April. We do have some limited amounts of pre-ship samples available.

The second container will soon be on the way to Oslo and will arrive beginning of May. The 3rd shipment is just about to be finalized and we will keep you posted. All in all I think we  will have somewhere around 15 different Kenyan lots available. A few are from Nyeri, and the rest is from Kirinyaga and Kiambu.

As many of you are aware of there is a political situation in Nyeri that has limited our access to the coffees we would normally buy. Short story is that the newly elected governor is forcing the farmers and cooperatives to deliver their parchment to the governmental dry mill, and they are only to be sold and marketed through a certain exporter under their control. We do not support this act, and even if we have been offered these coffees through that system we have refused to buy any.  First of all, we don’t believe supporting this system benefits the farmers longer term, and second we are afraid of buying because of the lack of traceability, possible milling issues, and potential quality issues after delivery.

The good thing is that this situation has forced us to look in to new regions and cooperatives. Quality is great, some have very similar profiles to what we have previously bought, and others are great Kenyans with slightly different character that we had in the past. Even if the situation in Nyeri is getting solved I am sure we will continue buying Kenyans from many of these Coops in the future as they really stand out as some of the best coffees I have tasted so far this year. We were present in Kenya to cup and select coffees in four different periods after end of the harvest.

Check out the new offer list here!

Here’s an overview of what we have coming in from Ethiopia this year:

Yirgacheffe

Finally the first container from Ethiopia has arrived. Samples of the new arrivals are now available, and we expect PSS samples shortly of all the other incoming Ethiopians.

The coffees came in to our Oslo warehouse on Wednesday March 26th, and are definitely meeting our expectations on the cupping table. Floral, citric, spicy, clean and super sweet. These were three coffees out of a total of 5 different private washing stations in Yirgacheffe: Kochere, Chelelectu and Dumerso.  They are lots of 100 bags each and are from producers in different micro regions. We will also have the Wote arriving in Oslo next week (8 April), and there will be two more Yirgacheffe coffees (Aricha and Wote) coming in to Eniti in the UK in less than a month. (Read more about our warehousing changes here).

We are just finalizing the unwashed/sundried Yirgacheffe coffees, and they should arrive in about 6-7 weeks.

Sidamo

We have four different Sidamos coming in both to Oslo and Eniti in the UK. Bokasso and Hunkute will arrive in Oslo soon, and while most of it is pre – booked, we still have some available. We have one washed Guji arriving in the UK, as well as 200 bags of a great new coffee from the Cooperative Wottona Bultuma in Aleta Wondo. For those of you who haven’t tried out too many of the very high grown and complex Sidamos, I really recommend to give it a chance. They can in our opinion easily compete with any Yirgacheffe. The Guji will arrive in less than a month (end of April), and the Wottona in about 7 weeks from now (May/June).

Agaro

Again we bought some great stuff from the coopertives Bifdu Gudina, Nano Challa, and Duromina. A lot of it was pre-booked, but we still have some left. These coffees are pretty exceptional and very different from the Yirgacheffe and Sidamo Coffees, with a very sweet, almost spicy profile. We aim at buying more of these next season.

Check out the new offer list here!

Some thoughts on the Centrals:

El Salvador

Had relatively small volumes this year, for the second year in a row. El Salvador has been hit hard by leaf rust in addition to the low harvest cycle. Still, we have a selection of coffees from Jasal this year as always. Many are pre-booked, but there will be small amounts available that will appear on the offer list soon. We are also still finalizing coffees from the last pickings from Los Pirineos that have been shade dried, and are just finished on the drying tables. This will be announced soon.

Costa Rica

We are increasing our range of Costa Rica this year compared to the past. We have spent some time there to find new producers and have selected a really good range from different micro mills in Terrazu. Some of these mills are brand new, and the first year in production, but are performing extremely well. We are aiming on strengthening our relationship there over the next few years as we have found coffees that’s a perfect fit for our concept and flavor preferences. Mainly caturra and some catuai grown from 1800 – 2000 MASL. We will soon post a separate blog post on our work in Costa Rica (as soon as Alec gets his act together and sorts through his travel photos…)

Guatemala

We are currently working on some potentially great stuff from Huehuetenango and Freijanes. They are just about to finish the harvest, in some of these farms, and we are still waiting for confirmation samples. If they all performs well, and if we find enough attractive coffees to justify the shipment we will hopefully get these in  by end of June. Might be a mix of both Pacamars, Caturras and Bourbon.

Check out the new offer list here!

We want to let everybody know about some warehousing changes we’ve started for the 2014 harvest. As you can see on our new offer list, we are landing an increasing amount of coffee in the UK at Eniti, a specialty coffee and tea warehouse that is already quite well known in the industry.

There are several reasons for this, and all are related to giving more flexibility, better service, and a smoother and more economical option for coffee delivery:

1) Customs — all coffees from the UK are already cleared into the EU, which should make customs clearance headaches (mostly) a thing of the past.

2) Transport — freight rates from Eniti seem to be competitive for most locations as compared to Oslo, and without the extra charge for customs clearance.

3) Flexibility — having two locations for warehousing will allow us to fit everyone’s needs a bit better and offer better prices to more locations, especially in the UK/Ireland and southern Europe. Customers in northern Europe and Scandinavia will have their choice, as there should be very little difference in cost or delivery time!

We’ll be able to move coffee between warehouses with relative ease as well, so don’t worry if you see something you want to order and it’s not in your nearest warehouse location. As always I’ll do my best to sort it out!

–Alec

By Morten Wennersgaard

The view from Usulatan and Finca Los Pirineos. Top right: the Chaparrastique Volcano that erupted as lately as December 2013. Bottom left: Naturals dried on raised bed at the raised bed.

The view from Usulatan and Finca Los Pirineos. Top right: the Chaparrastique Volcano that erupted as late as December 2013. Bottom left: Naturals dried on raised beds.

We just finished up a trip to El Salvador to follow up on this year’s harvest. It is still quite early for the highest altitudes, but there were already a lot of samples to cup, and the quality seems to be great. It’s apparently the lowest crop in 50 years, and a huge shortage of coffee, but fortunately we have locked in a lot prior to harvest. In general we are working out contracts for two–three years at a time, mainly for our special preparations.

Pickers sorting cherries at one of the Salaverria farms. They have just started in the higher altitudes like 1450 meters and up.

Pickers sorting cherries at one of the Salaverria farms. They have just started in the higher altitudes like 1450 meters and up.

What is on the cupping table right now is cupping much better than last year at the same time. Sweeter, better clarity, in the cup and more complexity seems to be present. At this time last year the cups was more closed in general and tasted slightly tart due to freshness, but they all opened up fine after a while.

The average cherry quality after sorting to the un-ripes. The over ropes will mainly be removed in the siphon flotation system prior to processing.

The average cherry quality after sorting to the un-ripes. The over ropes will mainly be removed in the siphon flotation system prior to processing.

Las Cruces

There is a lot of development at the Salavarria family’s farms. First of all they are currently having a lot of new and exotic cultivars in their nurseries. Many of these plants will begin to be planted at different blocks with various altitudes, sun exposure, etc. to try to find the best growing conditions for each new varietal.

One of several cultivars that will be planted in the fields soon.

One out of several new cultivars that will be planted in the fields soon.

 

We have made some adjustments and slightly changed the process on the washed coffees. All coffees are eco-pulped with a Jotagallo pulper, and about 70-80% off the mucilage is mechanically removed. Last year the parchment was sitting overnight in re-circulated water coming from this process, before being rinsed in the morning and dried. We now rinse it just after it’s coming from the demucilager, and it then sits overnight in clean water before being rinsed again in the morning and then moved to drying patio. We hope this can give even better cup transparency.

One of the patios at Las Cruces. The different colors indicates the level of mucilage left after the coffees are mechanically demucilaged. The very white ones are also soaked/wet fermented after the demucilager.

One of the patios at Benficio Las Cruces. The different colors indicates the level of mucilage left after the coffees are mechanically demucilaged. The very white ones are also soaked/wet fermented after the demucilager.

There are also a lot of small drying experiments going on for washed, honeys, and naturals. We cupped a super crisp and clean natural from a trial on raised beds, which was mainly dried in relatively thin layers in sun and natural semi-shade from trees. Will do a couple of trials this year, for instance with one farm and three different processes, as well. We have already locked in some of these based on the first cuppings. It will be something like 20 bags available, and we will most likely upscale this process next year.

Experiments of naturals dried under natural semi shade on african beds.

Experiments of naturals dried on african beds under semi shade from big trees .

Los Pirineos

Gilberto, the owner, and Luis, the manager, has really stepped up taking development to a different level. First of all they have been part of a research project on varietals. From this and other collected samples he has planted a garden of cultivars, with about 50 different cultivars at Los Pirineos.

Gilberto Baraona besides he's new construction of drying tables. They are built at the mill, and works perfectly well.

Gilberto Baraona besides he’s new construction of drying tables. They are built at the mill, and works perfectly well.

Still, the coffees we are buying for now (and that are currently available) are from the traditional Bourbon Elite and Pacamara varieties. As they had to abandon the farms in that area over a period of about 12 years during the civil war, many of the farms still have the old traditional varietals. In other areas it was a lot of uprooting and replanting during those years trying to find more disease resistant cultivars with better yields etc.

They are using cones at their nursery for all the new plants and cultivars they are actively experimenting with.

In the last few years he has built a bunch of drying tables, both under shade and under sun. We have experimented with different levels of shade. Currently we are drying under 46% shade netting. It takes a month to dry those coffees. We will try to do some trials where we skin dry the coffee in a thin layer on patio for the first two days before moved to the drying tables. We are still doing trials together with Gilberto doing the same pickings dried in different ways. Currently there are trials going on with washing and fermentation as well. As with Jasal’s coffees, at Las Cruces Gilberto is using Jotagallo eco-pulpers with mechanical mucilage removal. We are testing out the difference between coffees taken straight from the process to the patios, with no soaking or fermentation, then parchment from the same pickings are soaked and rinsed 12 hours and 24 hours. It’s clearly a difference looking at the color of the parchment, and it will be interesting to see how and if it affects the flavors.

This is the new drying area at Los Pirineos. It's under a shade net of 46% shade. Drying can take up to 30 days. Results have so far been great. It changes the flavor of the coffee, and last year it definately increased the shelf life dramatically. We had coffees tasting good one year after arrival.

This is one of the new drying areas at Los Pirineos. It’s under a shade net of 46% shade. Drying can take up to 30 days. Results have so far been great. It changes the flavor of the coffee, and last year it definately increased the shelf life dramatically. We had coffees tasting good one year after arrival.

Gilberto and Luis have also started a project with the surrounding farms processing their coffees for them. It’s done based on the same standards as for Los Pirineos, and from what we have cupped so far the potential of stunning coffees seems to be huge. The smaller surrounding farms are already separating their coffees by blocks, and we will have a lot of samples from the different ones to go through very soon. Like Gilberto, they are doing some Pacamara, but predominately Bourbon Elite.

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