Purple Honey and Red Honey are back!!! Though, this year we did something a little different; something we have been super excited about and anticipating the outcome! We dried our own coffee for the first time! We could speak for days about all we learned and experienced through this process, and if you are interested- please email us for more information, but here is short version of what Bohío has been working on.
Reviewing the harvest with Odilio
Our first trip to Tarrazú this year was to visit our farmer of 3 years, Odilio. Amongst many updates in the coffee farmer world, he explained how he was not interested in processing Purple Honey (Natural) and Red Honey anymore for a number of reasons, which we understood and respected. With these two processes being the favorites amongst our baristas and customers, we said ok- Plan B, we process the coffee ourselves. We left Tarrazú, came to Jaco, and ordered an incredible text book on Amazon to prepare ourselves for the journey ahead. Over the course of the next two weeks the text book was studied and over 75 drying beds were built.
The Art of Picking
We embarked to Tarrazú the second time on a mission- bring back the ripest cherries. Simple wording for what we experienced as three of the most challenging days. Having never picked coffee cherries before, we spent most of the first day in the fields with Odilio’s pickers. There were men, women, youth, small children, friends, friends of friends, entire families, and wow, what talented souls. Most of them being from Panama and Nicaragua, we learned that they come here specifically for this season and share the art of picking with one another.
Learning the art, I picked almost one bucket of cherries in 3 hours… they were picking a bucket of cherries in 30 minutes. One would think that they were just picking everything to make it faster, but no, they were physically touching every single cherry to pull it off the branch to ensure that they were only picking the dark red ones, the ripe ones. Extremely important for the quality we were wanting to achieve, nonetheless- insanely difficult!
Bohío staff learning the art of picking
To be extra cautious in achieving our mission, all cherries picked in one day were laid out on tarps and sorted through to remove anything other than the ripe cherries. Three days of this and we were ready for the final step before heading to Jacó, bagging all of the cherries. We left Tarrazú with almost 80 sacks of cherries organized to be processed as Purple Honey (Natural Process).
Sorting and bagging coffee cherries
Drying: Moving, Rotating, Turning, and More Movement
The drying beds and a crew of hard workers were waiting when we arrived. The book advised us to add the cherries to water before putting them in drying beds. The cherries that floated needed to be dried separately because they were at a different humidity level than the cherries that sunk. Taking all of the advice we could this year, we proceeded to add every sack to a pool of water before separating them into drying beds based on found humidity level and date the cherry was picked.
Drying beds in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica
It took a full-time staff to oversee the drying process- consistent turning, rotating, moving from one bed to another to receive optimum sunlight/shade, and checking temperature and humidity levels regularly with a specific device to make sure the cherries were drying on schedule.
Half-way through the Purple Honey drying process, we received our beans which were to be dried as Red Honey. In Red Honey, the cherry hull is removed and then the bean is dried with the pulp still saturating the bean. Whereas Purple Honey, Natural Process, the cherry is dried whole. The drying process for the two are similar, regular rotating and turning of the cherry/bean, though Red Honey takes about half the amount of time to dry than Purple Honey.
Once the cherries/beans reached a 13% humidity level, they were removed from the beds and prepared to head to their concluding stage.
Ready to Roast
Our final trip to Tarrazú for this harvest season was spent at a mill. All of the cherries were hulled from the Purple Honey and both Purple Honey and Red Honey beans were sorted into separate qualities. We ended up with majority first quality coffee and a couple of bags of second quality, which we are pumped about!
It has been a few long months of learning, experiments, and hard work, but in reflection we can say that we would do all over again, and we will be, next year! For now, we have a ton of coffee to enjoy!
Photographer: Nickolas Saraceni
Referred Textbook- Coffee: Growing, Processing, Sustainable Production Edited by Jean Nicolas Wintgens