Burundi Cup of Excellence Diaries: Part III

Our esteemed VP of Sales, Marketing, and seemingly everything else, John Moore, flew last week to Burundi’s first-ever Cup of Excellence competition. We at Dallis, and particularly John, have been proud to support and participate in Cup of Excellence competitions across the world, both for the benefit they bring to the industry by recognizing truly great coffees, and — more importantly — for the actual financial benefit this recognition can bring to farms, particularly those in economically troubled countries. Burundi’s first competition, and John’s first trip to Burundi, are momentous to us. We share here his penultimate trip diary.

A Bujumbura sunset. Photo by John Moore.

Day Three

Yesterday was remarkable. After an intense bunch of cupping we went to a beautiful tea plantation, followed by a pygmy village. I had never been to a tea plantation before, and I felt as though I had left Burundi and been transported straight to Ireland somehow. The green of the tea plants is that striking.

Then we visited a pygmy village where allegedly the folks living there have purposefully shun modern conveniences. Given the abject poverty you see in producing countries it is hard to know if the claim is true or not. This group is evidently famous for producing
authentic pottery as it has been produced here for hundreds of years, and when we arrived it seemed quite the event. The entire village seemed to explode into song at one point and it was a tremendous thing to experience.

As for the cupping, what an adventure. I was table lead a few times over and found potato a few times. I must say that the jury is quite an impressive bunch, and no one is trying to sugar-coat cups, or let things through that have taints. I really saw the value of all of our innumerable cupping sessions over the years and all of the events we have done in less than perfect circumstances. As our cups started getting poured I immediately noticed the nature of the separation of the coffee didn’t look normal, and immediately suspected cooler than appropriate water as the culprit. Sure enough, once I brought it up the table next to us noticed the same thing. Their crew ended up split up amongst all the other tables, and our crew had to get the first 4 samples completely re-done!

It was funny because Kentaro Maruyama, who has probably been to more CoE’s than anyone on earth, was at my table. He had never seen something like that before. To add insult to injury, about halfway through our special session, the power failed. You had to laugh.

Paul Songer gets tons of credit as Head Judge, since he was instantly on top of the whole situation and making things work. He managed to give an entire lecture on roast color identification in order to give them extra time to prepare water. I thought it would
be a snorefest, but it was more than just “make sure to calibrate your Agtron”, and was incredibly interesting.

We ended the day with a failed attempt to see hipppos and then showed up late and dirty to the home of the U.S. Charge’ d’affaires, essentially the stand-in ambassador, since our current ambassador isn’t here yet in Burundi. The new ambassador has been named, but she
hasn’t yet been approved by Congress. It was a pleasant time followed by a quick bite and then a sleepless evening of tossing and turning under a mosquito net.

Hot & Cold Coffee of Bujumbura. Photo by John Moore.

Day Four: Burundi Coffee Crawl

Last night we were finally able to get “off campus” a bit to see some of the local coffee bars and cafes. Power outages seem to have been higher recently, and security around our area has been high since evidently the President plays soccer right around the corner a couple of times per week.

Visiting the coffee bars was great. The photos of the first one really tell the whole story. It took forever for us to find it in the sea of signage but it was worth it. “Hot & Cold Coffee” had no power, so imagine their surprise when about 10 CoE judges and other folks rolled in. It was hysterical. Plus the average age of the staff was probably 60, and two lovely women were running the place pretty much in the dark.

Our second stop was Aroma, which has a look and feel that rivals any cafe I’ve been in. A few of us hopped behind the bar, and that is when we really noted that some things were different. The espresso machine that looks newest hasn’t worked for a while it seems, and the power outage had just killed the older machine, although it did recover pretty quick. Gaskets probably haven’t been changed in years. We all had to laugh, since if we sent new gaskets they would probably use them cleverly in a car or something.

The last cafe we visited was Le Gourmand Cafe, and I had a croissant there that is as good as anything I have had in New York. It was extremely polished, and the style reminded me a little bit of the Octavio Cafe. Unfortunately the power issues had completely fried the espresso machine just a couple hours before we got there. Doing business in Burundi is not easy. Our head tech Mike D would have his work cut out for him here in Burundi!