Blackcurrant, cherry liqueur, candied orange and cinnamon
Our latest Costa Rican bombshell is Cordillera de Fuego from the Alajuela region and another great example of using specifically designed and controlled anaerobic fermentation to achieve some extraordinary flavour characteristics.
Cordillera de Fuego SA was founded in 2015 when two coffee producing families with more than 40 years combined industry experience came together to create something new. Focussing on both thermal shock and anaerobic fermentations, cherries are grown on Finca Berlin de San Ramón de Alajuela, in the West Valley of Costa Rica owned by Mr. Evelio Fernández, one of Cordillera Del Fuego’s associates.
It took 6 years to master this twist on an anaerobic fermentation process which began with considering some fundamental principles: the coffee cherry is a fruit and the mucilage is the juice. The flavour of the fruits is concentrated in the juice and not the seeds. The mucilage will have differing levels of sugars according to the ripeness of the cherry, its variety, the time of year and the nutrients available in the soil, and therefore the mucilage across a ‘lot’ of coffee will have several flavours.
Their particular process uses a mucilage 'gel' donor. Intriguing eh ! This is how it works.
Cherries are harvested at 26 Brix and then placed inside stainless steels fermentation tanks. An additional selection is made for the coffees that will be the donors of the mucilage and these also have to be very ripe with a Brix reading close to 26. The mucilage donor cherries are pulped and the parchment is then passed through the demucilagination machine, tightly packed to create a mucilage ‘gel’.
This gel is then added into the fermentation tanks with the amount of gel enough to cover the entire mass of parchment, and mixed thoroughly to ensure homogeneity. Then the fermentation begins and is monitored and controlled by the temperature and pH (different yeasts and bacteria have their own favoured temperature range for active metabolism). Typically the process lasts between 18 and 23 hours.
One of the successful elements of any fermentation is to stop it once all the sugars of the mucilage have been consumed, but before alcohol is produced. During the fermentation the release of CO2 produced in the sealed tanks exerts a very high pressure and facilitates the flavour pre-cursors of the fermentation as well as the more volatile flavour components of the actual juice to be forced into the seeds themselves.
Once the measurement and the fermentation has reached the optimum level the tanks are opened very carefully (due to the high pressure), drained, and the coffee removed and taken directly to the drying beds in the sun for a minimum of 4 hours. This is a crucial and necessary step which must be carefully coordinated with the available daylight to ensure the fermentation is stopped. Otherwise the desirable flavours could be destroyed if fermentation is allowed to continue.
The result is quite something. Sweet, syrupy and boozy. Blackcurrant, cherry liqueur, candied orange and cinnamon. Yup - it's a whole mouthful of flavour.