Costa Rica - It's All About the Process
Author : Lucy Ward of Sensory Lab
Costa Rica is home to some of the most revered coffee in Central America. Well known for their exceptional processing methods, Costa Rican coffee is typically very bright and very clean, two factors we absolutely love in Melbourne. One thing Costa Rica does exceptionally well is honey processing, or ‘miel’ as it is know locally. This is a phrase that they coined to describe their take on the pulp natural process I described in the Brazil blog post. I absolutely love honey process and the amazing array of flavour you can get. From black through to white, the best quality ones are intensely sweet, complementing their natural otherwise rather forceful acidity.
People often ask me to explain honey process, it does have a pretty great name but I assure you, no honey is used in the process. In a nut-shell, honey process coffee is dried with all or part of the sugary mucilage still left on the parchment. When it dries down it all clumps together and forms a sticky mass, similar to honey. You end up with intensely sweet and slightly fruity cup that sits about halfway between a fully washed and a natural coffee. There is a whole spectrum of honey process coffee out there you might have heard of, anything from white, gold, black, and even pink have been seen popping up over the years. There is no hard and fast rule on how to process your coffee. So many producers, always pushing boundaries, experiment and develop their own style. This refining of process is really common in Costa Rica and I think that is why they are at the forefront when it comes to processing.
Honey process is almost artisanal in nature. The precision that is required to get it just right is a beautiful thing. Rather than push the cherries through a de-pulper or roller like in a normal wet process coffee, they put them through the gentle mechanical washer. Mechanical washers use very little water to gently rub the coffee up against each other. The tighter they push, the more mucilage comes off. This gives them a great degree of control to determine how much mucilage is left on the cherry. The honey colour relates to how much mucilage is left on the bean. The mucilage also relates to how much body and sweetness the end cup will have.
Each farm is a little different but basically black honey has only the skin removed, is fermented in a big covered vat and is dried down quite quickly. Red honey has about 25% of the mucilage removed, Yellow honey 50%, Golden Honey 75%, and White honey has pretty much everything removed (similar to Brazilian pulp-naturals).