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  • 26 Dec 2016

    Merit x Mpanga

    posted by Jamie Isetts

    Merit is thrilled to revisit our partnership with the Mpanga washing station this year! We’ll offer three diverse, candy-like coffees from this singular mill, along with a special box set just in time for Valentine’s Day. This award winning mill owes its prestige to the hard work of owner and manager Jean-Clement Birabereye, who focuses almost exclusively on high-quality micro lots and unique experiments.Despite myriad inherent challenges, “JC” produces some of the most pristine coffees we receive all year.

    Burundi is a small, landlocked country in East-Central Africa. High altitude, volcanic soils, and ample water supply make it prime real estate for producing specialty coffee. However, the lack of a port creates delays as trucks transport the coffee over long backroads and the cargo goes through labyrinthine customs regulations. The antesia bug, found only in Central Africa, creates a defect that makes coffee taste like a freshly cut potato. Political unrest exacerbates every hold-up. So many things must go perfectly right for us to receive beautiful coffees from this nation on the other side of the world.

    Farmers in Burundi typically have very small plots. After picking cherry, they bring it on foot or bike to a washing station or wet mill, which purchases the cherry from them on site. Washing stations perform all processing, from pulping and fermenting the cherry to drying the remaining parchment. They then contract a dry mill to remove the parchment layer and sort the green coffee into different qualities. In this system, the washing station is the key player in defining quality and traceability.

    So why do we specifically love Mpanga washing station?

    Flavor and Consistency These sweet coffees are accessible AND complex, year after year. Flavors like orange marmalade, dried cranberries, and banana cross our minds when we think of Mpanga.

    Farmer Equity Jean-Clement prides himself on offering price incentives for farmers who bring meticulously picked coffee cherries, as well as a premium to farmers whose coffees place in international competition.

    Traceability and Terroir Since most of the farms that sell cherry to Mpanga mill are too small to produce a specialty lot on their own, JC organizes them into micro-terroirs based on the hill where their farm is located. We will offer washed coffees from Murago Hill and Shimu Hill to showcase these differences.

    Experimentation Drying coffee in the sun is particularly difficult in Burundi since the main harvest falls during the rainy season. The extra moisture in the air creates a breeding ground for bacteria, meaning that any coffee with fruit left on it after fermentation takes a Herculean amount of attention to execute well. For this reason, the majority of coffee is washed using a two-step fermentation process similar to that found in Kenya.

    Jean Clement and team have defied the odds by experimenting with natural and honey process coffees, which leave fruit on after fermentation. These coffees must be attended to literally minute to minute as they dry. We’re happy to be one of just a few roasters to offer the result of these efforts in the Mpanga Natural.

    Take advantage of these three coffees while they last. They flew of the shelves in 2016, and we expect nothing less this year!