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In 2014, Ben and Kristy Carlson, the founders of the Long Miles Coffee Project (LMCP), established their largest washing station in Burundi. Their initiative aimed to empower local communities and uplift one of the world’s poorest countries through the production and export of specialty coffee, embodying a holistic, grassroots, community-driven approach. Named Heza, which translates to "beautiful" in Kirundi, the local dialect, it stands as their most significant and ambitious processing station.
Situated on Gitwe Hill, Heza acts as a central hub for coffee production in the region, surrounded by dramatic hills with stark peaks and troughs. The station draws water from a nearby spring, utilizing it throughout the coffee processing journey, from sorting and fermentation to the final drying stages along the hillside. LMCP's dedication to traceability and transparency sets it apart, supporting unique and fully traceable coffees in a challenging environment where farmers generally produce very few cherries due to limited trees and farmland.
LMCP's success in identifying landscapes with potential and investing in farmer livelihoods has led to the annual production of some of the country's best coffees. They organize farmers by hills, with several contributing to the Heza coffee lot. Each hill can have a few thousand coffee trees and hundreds of registered producing partners who receive competitive prices and extensive farm-level training, in addition to regular support for their crops.
The meticulous processing at Heza involves hand-sorting cherries for ripeness, double fermentation with similarities to Kenyan processing, and a unique "footing" process for parchment, akin to wine production. The station's remote location on Gitwe Hill, overlooking the Kibira rainforest, adds to the adventurous journey to Kayanza from the capital city of Bujumbura. The high altitude, moderate climate, and proximity to Kibira contribute to the exceptional quality of coffee produced. For those familiar with our story at LMCP, the name Kibira will ring a bell, as we initiated a tremendous reforestation project, namely Trees For Kibira, with various cafes.
LMCP’s commitment to progress is evident in their processing, introducing the country’s first-ever honey-processed coffees alongside varied naturals and washed styles. Despite the challenges posed by the vast hilly landscape and dispersed farmers, LMCP's meticulous approach ensures the coordination of thousands of farmers and processing staff, resulting in the production of unique and high-quality coffees. The combination of education, fair prices, and sustainable practices has rekindled many farmers' faith in coffee as a long-term livelihood, contributing to economic and social change in Burundi.