Located midway between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, Burundi has been called "the heart of Africa." It is a country of greens and blues and rich earth tones: sky, water, land, trees. Three social groups, the Hutu, the Tutsi, and the Twa share a language (Kirundi) and a lifestyle. Agriculture and livestock are their mainstay, and though there have been past tribal conflicts, they now live together on the same hills, attend the same schools, and grow the same crops—including coffee.
Coffee came to the country circa 1904, brought by Belgian missionaries. In fact, though it has been relatively unknown due to past trade embargoes by neighboring countries, Burundi has been called “a coffee buyer’s dream.” Firstly, since most coffee here is of the Arabica of Bourbon variety, highland grown, Burundi produces an intensely sweet cup with nuanced acidity. Secondly, 65%-70% of the annual crop funnels through the country’s approximately 185 washing stations. This augments quality control and helps reduce inconsistencies, and since most washing station managers agree not to mix lots, traceability makes possible the purchase of specific day lots, the entire harvest from one station, or lots selected by processing/drying methods (for example, single vs double fermentation). Thirdly, in contrast with many coffee-producing nations, the roads in Burundi are actually quite decent, and the country is small enough that transporting coffee to point of export is the work of a few short hours.
Though the coffee sector here has had its ups and downs and changes in administration, these days it is under private rather than government control. Approximately 40% of the population is involved in some aspect of coffee production, and all told, Burundi boasts of over 25 million coffee trees, with coffee exports providing 70% of foreign currency revenue. As an administrative language, French predominates, though use of English is on the rise, and Swahili is prominent as a trade language in cities and along Lake Tanganyika.