This time we are travelling to Burundi and the Tangara region. Burundi is a small east African country sharing borders with Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the west/south and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west. Given its shape it is sometimes called the heart of Africa. In recent years I have find Burundi to be one of the main challengers for "most improved" - every year that passes the cup quality seems to improve. Despite its small geographic size I also find great variety in the coffee from the country.
The particular coffee in question is called "Prince" - after Prince Bigayimpunzi who was a significant individual to the history of coffee farming in the Tangara region. As last week the varietal is a Bourbon, in particular red Bourbon. According to googlemaps this coffee was grown around 200km away from last weeks Rwandan "Bingo" - given they're both Bourbon varietals and naturally processed we would assume that the coffees would be remarkably similar: this is not the case. The Rwandan was polite, refined and not at all funky. In contrast the Burundi Prince is a wild child!
As I like to start with any coffee: on the nose we are punched in the face with berry fruitiness! It is really quite striking and is certainly intense. There are some supporting notes there too, a chocolate-y sort of smell and it gives the impression of "sweetness" but first impressions are this will be an acidity bomb! There is not a huge amount of "funk" on the nose, in fact it's difficult to really tell it's a natural. Based on smell alone I might guess it is a washed Kenyan, it gives off that sort of acidic fruit-bomb vibe.
Moving on, as always, to the filter: again I rely on my trusty Hasami Brewer. I've not written much about brewed coffee yet in this blog so I will take a brief de-tour to talk about my set up and how I approach filter.
At heart I will always be a "filter-boy" - it is what first attracted me to coffee and is my most common form of coffee. I particularly love it for judging coffees as the coffees really speak for themselves when presented this way. I have tried (and still use) many different types of brewer, drip, pour-over, infusion, you name it! But for many years for me Chemex was king. One thing I always look for in a coffee is cleanliness, that is the quality I hunt down most - it is why I favour (much) lighter roasts than many. The Chemex with the very thick filter papers accentuates this quality in a coffee so it has always been a favourite of mine. If the pour-over world is split into Chemex and v60 fans I am firmly in the former camp! I also think as an item the chemex is a beautiful item to behold and an iconic design - I am a firm believer that we first taste with our eyes. Having a beautiful brewer/decanter and mug will improve how you perceive your coffee.
However I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the performance of Chemex brewers. I find them quite finnicky and have a few issues. Most notably is that the "funnel" walls are smooth, this can cause the filter paper to "stick" to the sides and create a vacuum preventing the water from passing through the coffee. The pouring lip is meant to prevent this however it doesn't always work. It is certainly not an issue that affects every Chemex brew but it happens enough to make you angry when it does. Another issue I have with the Chemex is the glass walls mean heat escapes quickly, I believe the trick to good filter coffee is keeping things as warm as possible but the Chemex makes this a losing battle. Perhaps worst of all however is that the funnel and carafe are joined together and the neck is narrow, trying to clean a Chemex gets frustrating fast and they quickly look tatty. Not to mention how fragile they are, if you drop one it's likely it's gone for good!
My solution for a while was to instead use the v60 brewer and carafe but use the thicker Chemex papers. This is a fair compromise, the v60 has swirling "ridges" that reduce the chance of the paper sticking to the walls. You can pick up a plastic v60 cone for very little money so it is cost effective and long lasting. However unless you spend considerably more I don't find the v60 particularly visually appealing. About a year ago I came across the Hasami brewer, having bought some of their saucers to use for my espresso cups:
It has a definite "style" but I am a big fan of the way it looks and feels. Like the v60 it has "ridges" (but straight instead of swirling) but they are deeper so if anything more effective. The brewer itself is "insulating" in the sense that it is made of hollow ceramic/porcelain which helps heat retention. It also comes with a "lid" that I like to place on between pours to further prevent heat loss (I've not tested the efficacy of this but it makes me feel better!) It is also an easy clean which is a big plus. The Chemex papers provide a good fit. Overall I'm very happy with it (although I do appreciate it is a very expensive brewer not offering much in the way of tangible benefit to a v60!)
My filter technique is generally quite simple and I do not change it very often. With filter I feel that if you're trying to "dial in" every coffee you're doing something wrong - you should look for a consistent technique that you can easily repeat. My technique involves (typically) getting the water very hot, I tend to set my kettle to 100c (although for certain coffees I might knock that back a few degrees depending). My grind setting is constant for all coffees, I do not vary it to target a specific drawdown time. I follow a "pulse pour" approach. I like to pour a small amount of water every 15-20s in order to keep the water level low in the brewer - I find this helps keep the extraction levels higher and helps with consistency. Unlike most others I do not favour agitation of the brew; the extraction yield isn't quite as high but for me the quality improves. The no-agitation approach increases clarity and cleanliness which is generally my main aim. For a typical cup I will use 14-15g coffee and 200g water - this ratio is a little higher than some suggest but it is where I like it, I feel the little extra coffee makes up for the lack of agitation in terms of total extraction but you end up with a cleaner cup out of it. I might pour 40g, leave for 30s then pour 20g of water every 15s as a typical recipe. Between pours I put the kettle back on to heat up if it needs it and I will place the Hasami lid on to reduce the amount of heat loss.
Back onto the coffee in question after this detour into the world of brewing: as a filter this coffee is fairly wild! The acidity is very prominent from the get go. Blackberries and redcurrants come through strong but this is balanced by a chocolate note and a sweet butterscotch taste and mouthfeel. It is an interesting cup for sure, very complex. Of the long and shorts this is my choice as a filter, it is just more "my style". As is often the case with Burundi's there is a floral note I can't quite put my finger on also, I have a hard time describing it and it's not particularly loud but it is there.
Moving onto the espresso: again this is a wild child! The long and short roast profile again is more developed than my "typical" coffees which makes it very easy to pull shots from. If you wanted a "gateway drug" to the wilder more acidic espressos I don't think this one would be a bad starting point as it is so forgiving. Again the acidic blackberry-redcurrant notes are in the forefront and are by far most dominant. The acidity offers almost a "drying" experience in the mouth (but not in a bad way). There is enough sweetness to balance things out but it is not something I can really pinpoint down as a "sugar" or "caramel" or "chocolate" its just there to balance things. In terms of mouthfeel and body there is not much to talk about it is fairly "thin" - some may not like that but I've never really placed much value on body. It is certainly a clean cup and thoroughly enjoyable. Again there is that floral note lingering in the aftertaste that I wish I could put a finger on, maybe I'll have to try some more floral tasting foods to try and really dig down into what this "Burundi note" is!
Just as this weeks coffee is a wild-child we also look at a wild album as this weeks jazz pairing: Angles 9 - Injuries.
I have to admit I do not know a huge amount about the various "Angles" bands (led by saxaphonist Martin Küchen), there are many incarcerations in many "sizes" - this album being a nonet - or nine piece. This places it firmly in the "big band" camp, something I feel is being under-represented currently. This particular album was released in 2014 and was my first exposure to this band. The full personel are:
- Alexander Zethson - piano
- Andreas Werliin - drums
- Eirik Hegdal - baritone sax
- Goran Kajfes - cornet
- Johan Berthling - bass
- Magnus Broo - trumpet
- Martin Küchen - alto and tenor sax
- Mats Aleklint - trombone
- Mattias Ståhl - vibraphone
The music itself is more at the "free" end of jazz (which in itself is odd for a big-band) - but there is still great focus on creating a groove, this is "free jazz" for those that enjoy getting up on their feet and dancing. Some of the playing is wild and ferocious, intellectually stimulating and challenging. Yet they manage to keep thrings under control by not losing sight of the groove and relying on the occassional minimalist section to allow the music to breathe. This is a great example of why "free jazz" can still rely on great composition.
Angles 9 have a sound completely of their own, you can identify them within a playlist almost instantly. To me this is the sign of a great artist. Their sound is neither too modern nor too dated, it is just right in that sweetspot where you have some familiarity but it is not "boring". You can tell every musician in the group plays with swagger and has complete confidence in each others abilities, if the musicians were even slightly on edge the whole thing would fall apart into one big mess.
The opening track (embedded above) "European Boogie" is an absolute fire-cracker that sets the stage for the rest of the album. It is bombastic, swinging and with just the right amount of ego. It also shows that this project is not just content on making music, they're also trying to make a statement as many of the earlier free-jazz adopters were. However unlike the negative outlook many jazz artists take (and rightly so) - this album presents celebration, peace and hope at the forefront. They manage to combine many cultures into the music seemlessly, from the African and Latin inspired percussive beats through European classically inspired melodies. It is "fusion" in the true sense of the word.
The album is released on the Clean Feed record label out of Lisbon, Portugal. In recent years I have found this to be a highly dependable label. I like labels to have their own "sound" or "style", this is something that the early labels had in spades. You can pick up any Blue Note recording from the '50s-60s and you know what to expect. Cleanfeed does not hark back to the "good old days" trotting out tried and tested music, they're very ambitious. The music tends to be very free and experimental but never for the sake of it. It also helps that their recording quality is always top notch too, again they're progressive and modern - they aim for a very "clean" hi-fi quality to recording, not putting any "faux-patina" on during the recording to conjur up nostalgia. Yet the records remain open and warm, never cold nor clinical. Something that's very hard to do.
All in all "Injuries" can only be described, in this author's opinion, as a modern masterpiece. I don't like to make claims of "album of the decade" or similarly grandiose terms but for jazz released in the 2010s this has to be up there in any "best of" list. It is mindboggling to me this album did not get wide recognition.
I will leave with the track from the album: "Ubabba". It is the least "free" of all the tracks but shows this band can still swing as hard as anybody else out there! Albeit in their very unique styling. After listening to free-jazz it's often nice to end on something more straight as a pallette cleanser: