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Rwanda + Burundi = Espresso Perfection

Rwanda + Burundi = Espresso Perfection

July 7, 2016 

When considering "African coffees", I tend to think of exotic flavor profiles and pronounced acidity, and rightfully so. So many of coffee's crown jewels are produced in equatorial regions in East Africa and near the Great Horn, where Coffea Arabica was born, so to speak. These coffees shine in light roasting, often the featured cup at a slow bar, and have changed the minds of so many coffee drinkers who once thought that all coffees taste the same.
Rwanda and Burundi stand out, due in part to the massive plantings of the bourbon cultivar. Brought to the region by missionaries in the 19th C, bourbon is known for it syrupy sweetness and nuanced cup that comes with growing in the higher elevations. We find that the coffees from both countries produce an extremely diverse range of cup flavors: from the heady floral and spice characteristics of competition-level lots, to the dense (almost "chewy") raw sugar sweetness that we think of as much more akin to our best Central American coffees.
And while often the center piece of a café brew bar, Rwanda and Burundi coffees aren't considered nearly as often as they should for espresso application. Bourbon beans can be quite dense, making them a more than viable option for dark roasting, and also espresso. They produce compact sweetness, along with moderate floral and acidity levels, and more are more often than not are a near perfect single origin espresso option in our opinion.
For this week's production roasting, we chose Rwanda Nyamasheke Mutovu and Burundi Murambi Rubanda as our coffees for espresso (if you didn't already know, we offer a roasted coffee subscription service. Our approach in the roaster was to finish on the inside edge of 2nd snaps, no oil present on the bean exterior. As you can see in our roast graphs, we tried for a gradual ramp-up in heat, slightly extending the time between the beginnings of first snaps and finish in order to tone down acidity, thus producing a much more rounded cup profile.
In fact, the goal was to produce a roast that's works well as both espresso and brewed coffee, which these do, especially for those who are partial to the bittersweetness that comes with deeper roast tone. Both coffees are intensely sweet at this roast level, which I'd say is dead center on the Full City roast spectrum. When brewed as coffee, a smokey cacao-nib flavor is one of the dominant characteristics in both coffees, but with a counterbalancing sweetness, and subtle fruit hints as the cup cools. Acidity is compromised with a stretched roast, which is something to keep in mind when deciding on your own roast approach. But our intention was to mute the acidity to keep from puckering brightness that often comes with African SO espresso.
 
We don't have fancy logging software, and so some pertinant info is missing above. Other relavent data: 1st crack @ 11:55, finish @ 15 minutes, with 14.8% weight loss
It always takes a few shots to get the grind dialed in, and we like to taste them all, for better or for worse. My first really tasty shot was with 22 grams of coffee going in, and 18 grams coming out in roughly 20 seconds. Even at this fast extraction the bittersweetness is so intense. Up front flavors are like Hershey syrup, with a lemon juice tartness that rings loud, but is cut short by the ushering in of roast tone, a flavor that plays out like roasted cacao nibs. The second shot was quite different, 17.5 grams of coffee in, 28 second extraction, and 29 grams of liquid coming out. The acidity is much more integrated into the overall profile, and the bittersweet chocolate tones are up front, and linger (we noted a "rooty" flavor in the long aftertaste). We did one last pass with a slightly tighter grind, 18 grams of coffee in, and 22 grams out over the course of 32 seconds. This is the one for me: sweetness fully realized, a lemonade-like top note, and extremely viscous mouthfeel.
 
Other relevant data: 1st crack @ 11:45, finish @ 15 minutes/425 F (forgot to plot that final point!), with 14.6% weight loss
Having good luck with our final Burundi shot, we decided to use the same parameters from the get go: 17.5 grams in, 24 grams out, and 32 second extraction. This is a slightly brighter coffee, from lemon juice tartness to a rindy orange peel bittering quality. The sweetness is moderate but convincing in this extraction, and a counterbalance to a Baker's cocoa powder that adds to a touch more bittering in the finish. Adding just a hair more coffee on a second pass, but same time and liquid out, pushed the sweetness as well as acidity, culminating in a shot that reminded me of dark chocolate covered lemon drops. I pick up on some spice and fresh herb-like accents too in the finish, that give off an impression of a hoppy ale.
Between these two origins, we currently have eight coffees that are well worth their weight in espresso. Staying north of 2nd snaps, you can expect profiles to follow a similar construct as the ones in this review. See the full list of Burundi HERE, Rwanda HERE, or pick up all 8 at slightly lower cost than buying individually HERE. And if you'd like to try the roasts outlned in this blog, we have a few pounds of each of these coffees for sale on our Roasted Coffee Page while supplies last.
It's worth adding that the main reason cafes have trepidation around these two origins is the potato defect, which like all other coffee flavor compounds, is intensified in espresso extraction. Thankfully, the tide seems to be shifting a bit. Tom was at Blue Bottle recently, and noticed that they were serving a Rwanda as espresso. To us their reasoning is sound, and right in line with our feelings on the matter as well: Burundi and Rwanda coffees are just too damn good to let an infrequent potato cup negate these origins altogether.   -Dan