What's in a name?
"Red Bourbon Honey" Quite simply my favourite coffee (but don't tell the others!) It's hard not to be swayed into an auto-suggested flavour expectation by this seductive, ...
What's in a name?
"Red Bourbon Honey" Quite simply my favourite coffee (but don't tell the others!) It's hard not to be swayed into an auto-suggested flavour expectation by this seductive, rather poetic sounding name. Although, in actual fact it is a blend of scientific, botanical & agro-industrial process terminology!
The Red refers to the outer skin of the coffee cherry. In this variety, Red Bourbon, a certain shade of red, a beautiful rich Burgundy is a sign of peak ripeness. Whether gauged by the incredible precision of the human eye or the mechanical exactitude of the Brix meter, we are aiming for maximum sugar content. It's a waiting game. Patiently letting Nature take its course. Only picking the cherry when it has reached its full potential and before it goes over. It's not an easy task when you can find every stage of fruition on a single node of the stem. You can come across everything from flower to green cherry to under-ripe and occasionally over-ripe on every stem of every bush.
There are always some cherries ready to be picked 365 days a year. Pickers bring with them a heap of local knowledge which they employ to make multiple passes across entire swathes of the same hillsides, over and over again. Through this vital experienced eye they know where the parcels and lots of trees are planted and know by folk memory where to go for the next day's pickings.
A name that has resonated with many different meanings, in different contexts, to many generations. It was originally the name of that most opulent of French dynasties, the Bourbons. So keen were early explorers and plant collectors to bask in the reflected glory of the Sun King, Louis XIV, that having claimed the Île de Bourbon, in the Indian Ocean, off the horn of Africa, for the French crown it was named after the ruling monarchy.
It is thought that a new strain of the Coffea Arabica sprung forth here, a Cultivar (note: not a Variety) that, as if to proclaim its supremacy over the proletarian sounding 'Typica', it became known henceforth as 'Bourbon'. Along with this regal mantle came certain responsibilities, such as the ability to deliver sweetness in the face of bitterness.
The more familiar Bourbon label, of course, belongs to that sweet whiskey (with an 'e' because it's not Scotch!) hailing from the Southern (French influenced) United States of America. It is probably best sipped on Bourbon St during Mardi Gras!
But there is one Bourbon I cannot allow us to forget. For people of my own age and cultural background, the Bourbon will forever be a certain chocolate biscuit, of a dark chocolate brown hue, with even more chocolate cream, sandwiched in the middle... My own family will tell you that this was always my favourite biscuit! Imagine my delight in finding a cultivar of coffee with the same sweet, chocolatey properties?
...and so we come on to the final panel of the etymological triptych - The Honey. We are interested in the process called 'honey', which this refers to here. This is when the mucilage of the bean is allowed, in part, to remain on during its fermentation. When tested for readiness by a skilful handler at the mill, it is sticky, like honey. Indeed an actual stick is sometimes used to assess its stickiness! The Spanish speaking coffee farmers, mainly from Centroamêrico, likened the thixotropic viscosity of this stage of stickiness to honey, calling it 'Miel'. And guess what? The name stuck!
It is by a team effort that we are all aiming to hit that elusive sweet spot of the bean. Throughout each stage of the journey we are battling against Time and Oxygen to find this moving target. Many skillsets are involved:
The skills of the Growers, Pickers & Processors at Cafe Granja La esperanza Cafe Granja La Esperanza with their clear vision to find progressive solutions is the key embarkation point to get us pointing in the right direction. Their brave use of different processes and approaches to agronomy bring us a genuinely premium product and we give it all the attention it deserves.
Next there is the transformational skill of the Roaster, finessing of the sweetness in the roasting drum. Personally, as a roaster, I believe that the remnants of mucilage on the bean are translated into a caramelised element during the development stage of the roast. When I first started roasting Honey processed beans, (for they are a recent trend) I couldn't understand why my chaff lines along the fissure were black, rather than white, as with washed coffees. There was no trace on charring in the cupped flavours, just sweetness for days... Then I realised we were turning flesh into flavour!
Finally this is where you come in: the Brewer! What a responsibility?! Check all your parameters of the brewing portfolio: Time, Temperature and Turbulence; Dose Weight, Extraction Time. The list of tick boxes goes on in the Scientific 4th Wave of Coffee but we are all trying to arrive at the same glorious conclusion, to hit that elusive sweet spot of the bean. To bring out the best of the Red Bourbon Honey! I'm off to find a Bourbon biscuit to dunk in mine...