Some honey processed coffees deliver impressive sweetness, but at the price of brightness and clarity of flavor. This particular lot requires no such sacrifice! Aromatics of sweet wafer cookie, candied ginger, and fresh apricot introduce an invigorating cup with lemony acidity, green apple and cherry tones, and a warming black tea finish.
Founded by Ben and Kristy Carlson in 2013, the Long Miles Coffee Project serves as an inspiring point of connection between rural Burundian coffee farmers and the international specialty coffee market. This honey processed microlot is composed of coffee harvested by smallholder farmers in April, 2022, pulped and dried at the Ninga washing station, and carefully preserved in frozen storage since its arrival at Passenger’s roastery.
With a geographical area of less than 11,000 square miles, Burundi is a small, landlocked nation situated at the intersection of East Africa and the African Great Lakes region. Coffee production was forcibly introduced to the country in the 1920’s, after the German colonial territory of Ruanda-Urundi was allocated to Belgium by the League of Nations. Belgian colonial rule in those years mandated that every peasant farmer in the country cultivate at least fifty coffee trees. And while the Burundi coffee industry has navigated various seasons of privatization and nationalization since the country gained its independence in 1962, Burundian coffee continues to be produced by tiny, smallholder farmers who traditionally deliver the fruit of their coffee trees for sale and processing at one of ~140 washing stations that dot the country - many of which are owned by the state.
Founded by an American couple who moved to Burundi in 2011, the Long Miles Coffee Project has earned a strong reputation throughout the international specialty industry as an innovative, farmer-driven producer of top quality Burundian coffees. Noting that coffee farmers in Burundi stood to benefit from improved access to the specialty market and that specialty roasters struggled to source traceable coffees of consistent quality in Burundi, Ben and Kristy Carlson perceived an opportunity to make a positive impact on both fronts. Following the construction of the first Long Miles washing station, Bukeye, in 2013, the team has opened two additional processing sites (Heza and Ninga) in more recent years. Each Long Miles washing station is strategically located in close proximity to thousands of rural coffee farmers who are members of distinct hill communities (the smallest geopolitical unit in Burundi is the colline or “hill”). During the harvest season, each microlot produced by the Long Miles team is kept separated and traceable to the specific hill where it was harvested. For example, all microlots processed at Heza are named after one of the five hills that deliver to the washing station during harvest: Nkonge, Mikuba, Gitwe, Gishubi, and Mutana.
Passenger is proud to count the Long Miles Coffee Project, and the communities of Burundian coffee farmers that they work closely with, as one of six Foundational Partnerships that form the heart of our sourcing program. For each of these producer partnerships, our goal is the same: to buy as significant a volume as we can each year on an ongoing basis, intentionally prioritizing the purchase of a broad spectrum of available quality grades. Since 2018, Passenger’s primary menu offering from Burundi has been the Heza Foundational lot, named for the Long Miles washing station where the majority of our annual selections are processed.
“Processing” in coffee refers to all the steps undertaken by a producer to transform freshly harvested coffee cherries into carefully dried “parchment” coffee or coffee “pods” that are ready for dry milling and eventual export to roasters around the world. The three most common approaches to coffee processing are: the wet process (coffees processed in this way are also commonly described as “washed” coffees), the honey process, and the dry process (coffees processed in this way are commonly described as “naturals”). While the vast majority of Burundian coffees that Passenger buys are wet processed, the Long Miles team is also a skilled producer of honey and dry processed microlots that offer an intriguing spectrum of flavor profiles while still possessing a clear sense of place in the cup. At the time of writing, we are proud to add two coffees, one honey process and one natural, to the washed selections from Burundi that were already fixtures of Passenger’s menu.
Here is an outline of the Long Miles team’s approach to dry processing at Heza washing station:
- Handpicked coffee cherries are delivered to the washing station by local farmers.
- On arrival, the coffee cherries are “floated” in large tanks of water. This is a hugely important step for quality grading. Cherries that sink to the bottom of the tank are kept separate as the highest quality “cherry A”. Cherries that float on the surface tend to be defective or of lesser quality. These are skimmed and kept separate as “cherry B”.
- Following floating, the coffee is moved to raised beds where the farmers handsort the coffee to remove underripe and overripe cherries.
- Once handsorting is completed, the farmers carry their carefully screened coffee deliveries to the washing station’s scale. Long Miles staff weigh and record the volume of cherry A and cherry B that has been received from each farmer. For record keeping and transparency, this information is recorded on farmer cards that include the farmer name (and the name of their spouse or partner), the hill where their farm is located, and the grades and amount (in kg’s) of all their deliveries during a particular harvest year. This information is also kept in logbooks at the washing station and the farmer cards serve as the reference point for farmer payment at the end of the harvest.
- Once the coffee has been sorted, weighed, and accounted for, the cherries are transferred to raised beds where the coffee “pods” are spread out to dry in the full sun (with the fruit left intact). To prevent the development of moldy or unpleasantly fermenty flavors, the team at Heza is laser-focused on keeping the bed of cherries at a relatively thin depth, turning the coffee to ensure even drying, and using portable meters to monitor moisture content and water activity.
- Due to the fact that Heza washing station is situated at a relatively high elevation (1,960 masl) and often experiences periods of cloud cover and rainy showers (the coffee is covered with tarps when it rains), drying times for naturals can stretch from 30 days to well over two months! While these drying times might give cause for concern in other locations, the Heza team’s careful approach to drying (ensuring a gradual, controlled trajectory to the target moisture content) has resulted in highly impressive and consistent dry processed coffees to date.
This sweet, impressively complex honey processed lot is composed of coffee that was harvested by farmers on Ninga hill and delivered to the Ninga washing station between April 15th and April 27th, 2022. Following pulping and fermentation in sealed plastic “jacky bins”, the coffee was dried on raised beds for 32 days.