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Communal smallholder farmers
Mbirizi Washing Station is the second and most recent one out of two washing stations owned by the producer Salum Ramadhan. It was established 2014, with the first production in 2015. Our history with Salum dates back to 2011, and the relationship has worked out great since then. He’s extremely detail oriented, spends a lot of time to train local staff and have a great loyal work force. He’s also having a transport business and are through that managing the domestic coffee logistics well for us. This means that we are always getting our coffees out quickly while they are still fresh. Mbirizi is a communal station in the high altitudes in Kayanza. He’s mainly producing fully washed, but is also experimenting with naturals and shade dried. The coffees are basically all selected daily lots, named by the local area or Collin (hill) where the cherries are purchased. Farms in Burundi is small, often below one hectar each with some hundred trees. This means that a daily lot of e.g. 25 bags of greens can consist of coffee from some hundred growers.
He is systematically separating the coffees based on where they are grown, and by the date of processing. Post harvest we are cupping through some hundred samples to select the ones we find outstanding. They generally collect cherries from a range of areas with different altitudes, growing conditions etc, and the flavor range is pretty wide spread according to that. The coffees named Mbirizi is coffees from the surroundings of the washing station. Coffees with names like Nyabihanga and Mudusi are coffees grown in other areas, but still processed at Mbirizi.
He’s also investing in social and environmental projects such as education in the local areas, ponds for waste water etc.
Picking and selection
The main harvest will normally start very slowly in March, peak around May (depending on altitude and weather) and end in July. The family members on the small farms are working the land, picking the coffee cherries themselves in the afternoon or on Saturdays. They will then either deliver the cherries to Mbirizi washingstation by foot or bicycle, or to the closest collection points where Salum will have he’s site collector, meaning a representative from Mbirizi washingstation. They are strategically placed in remote areas to buy cherries. The farmers are free to deliver their cherries to anyone offering the highest price. And the competition in this area can be hard. Salum and he’s collectors will communicate with the local farmers on selective picking and sorting. To attract farmers with the best qualities they are constantly paying premiums above the market prices to improve the product.
Bringing in cherries from the different collection points is expensive as the cost of transport in Burundi is high. Still, it has been good for quality as he have well trained staff, good capacity and infra structure to produce micro lots.
Mbirizi washing stations have strict routines for cherry reception. The coffees are sorted by the farmers at the receiving stations on raised tables, or they even have small flotation tank system for each farmer at delivery. They also have workers dedicated to sort out un ripe and over ripe coffees for their special preparation of micro lots. The pre processing flotation process is to first put the cherries in water tanks. They will then skim off the floaters and give it back to the farmer before the coffees are hand sorted to separate out unripe/half-ripe.
Fermentation, washing and drying
The elevation at the washingstation is high, and climate is cool, meaning it’s easier to control the fermentation time. The traditional fermentation and washing process in Burundi is a lengthy procedure with double fermentation (dry and wet fermentation) before soaking. The double fermentation is a labor dense process that also requires a lot of water, and creates more wastewater. They changed the process to reduce water usage, labor, increase capacity and avoid overfermentation.
They generally do a 12 hour dry fermentation. It’s then graded in washing channels in to 3-4 grades based on density before 12-18 hours soaking time in clean water.
From there it goes to pre drying under shade with handpicking of wet parchment before entering the elevated and sun exposed drying tables. Drying normally takes 15 – 20 days depending on the climate and rainfall. It’s not uncommon with rain during the drying, and they have to be quick to cover up the parchment when they see the clouds are building up.