Redcurrant, white grape and cinnamon.
Once upon a time, when we were allowed to travel, I was lucky enough to meet the Chacon's - Francisca and Oscar who own and manage Las Lajas in Sabanilla de Alajuela in Costa Rica. It was one of those magical experiences and the most beautiful cupping room you could imagine overlooking the Central Valley region.
I distinctly remember cupping their 'Black Diamond' Black Honey processed coffee and this year I managed to source 24Kg of this beauty.
Las Lajas processes coffee from their family farms and are fully traceable and separated by day lots. Water use is minimal, since none of the coffee is washed. During the harvest, Francisca will measure the Brix content in the coffee cherry to determine the optimal time to pick the coffee. 21–22% Brix content has been the maximum they’ve seen.
Las Lajas were the first to produce naturals in Costa Rica and are still recognised as offering some of the best honeys and naturals in the region. We were told the story of their first natural harvest in 2008 by Francisca which was borne out of necessity rather than desire. An earthquake cut-off the mills water access for several weeks and Oscar used his knowledge of Ethiopian and Brazilian practices to dry the cherries without depulping them. At that time, Andrew Miller the founder of Cafe Imports was visiting and tasted these 'naturals'. He liked what he tasted, bought it and committed to future harvests.
Oscar believes that just as the roast profile will change the flavour of a coffee, the drying curve also has an impact. He wants the drying to happen slowly, which means that production is necessarily limited but quality is high. We were encouraged to dig deep into the mounds of sticky mucilage covered coffee to see how the temperature changed. Cooler on the outside, warmer the deeper you went. This is used for specific periods in their drying tunnels after initial drying on their raised beds, to control microbial activity.
For this Black Honey, after depulping the heavy mucilage covered beans are left for 24hrs on the raised beds without moving. They then go through a period of drying piled into mounds, before going out to the raised beds for approximately 3 weeks. The Black Honey process gives more fruity and winey characteristics compared to the Red and Yellow honeys but without the danger of unpleasant 'ferment' flavours that Naturals might exhibit.