October 12, 2022
by Eric Thompson
Unpacking Honey Processed Coffee
Anyone that has spent time buying whole-bean coffee is familiar with Natural
coffees. There is a bridge between the two methods, known as the Honey Process. Honeys can offer the fruitiness that is reminiscent of a Natural but can also lean toward the clarity that comes from Washed coffee.
The Honey Process parallels the Natural Process in many ways. There are some important nuances that make a distinguished flavor. To understand the layers of a coffee cherry, it may be useful to read our article on the Natural Process
In this article, we will talk about:
What is the Honey Process?
How is the Honey Process Graded?
What are the Regions and Flavor Profiles of the Honey Process?
By the end of this article, you will know how to determine the flavors inside a bag of Honey Processed Coffee!
From this point on, when we talk about coffee processes, we may not use the word ‘process’. When you see Natural, Washed, and Honey, it will be referring to the process names.
What is the Honey Process?
Like other methods, coffee cherries are harvested and then sorted in a large container of water. Overripe cherries are siphoned off of the top, leaving usable cherries at the bottom. The cherries are then de-pulped in a machine, stripping the fruit down to the mucilage layer. The sticky mucilage resembles honey in its consistency, giving the process its name.
The beans are left to ferment, undisturbed, for up to 72 hours. This time can vary, like in our Geisha Honey
, where the whole cherry is left in an anaerobic tank for 126 hours and then fermented while down to its mucilage for 52 hours. They are then spread out, like Naturals, on raised platforms to dry. The fermentation process continues during drying until the moisture content drops to ~11%-13%. The length of time that it takes to dry depends on how much mucilage remains on the beans. The mucilage darkens with time, giving names to the color grading system, broken down in the next section.
During the drying process, the beans are continuously stirred to ensure that neither mold nor mildew grows. Stirring also helps control fermentation, ensuring that unsavory, over-fermented flavors do not develop.
Once the moisture content reaches ~11%-13%, the beans are then milled. Milling removes both the remaining mucilage and parchment, yielding green coffee beans.
What is the Grading System of the Honey Process?
Honey coffee can vary wildly depending on the amount of mucilage that remains on the beans, affecting the conditions for drying. Paraphrasing information on the grading system from Dr. Palmiro Poltronieri and Dr. Franca Rocci's research about the challenges in specialty coffee (section 3.4), the scale is as follows:
25% of the mucilage remains and is allowed to dry/ferment in direct sunlight for around 8 days. This leaves a golden yellow color on the beans.
~50% of the mucilage remains and is allowed to dry/ferment for around 12 days, giving an amber-red color. Shade and cover are utilized to protect from the elements and direct sunlight
100% of the mucilage remains and is allowed to dry/ferment for up to a month, giving a deep black color
The beans are agitated at different intervals during the drying process. Agitation depends on the amount of mucilage that is present. Yellow Honeys tend to be stirred once every hour, whereas Black Honeys are stirred once per day and Red Honeys, like our Catuai Honey
, can fall anywhere in between.
Flavor Profile and Regions of the Honey Process?
Honey coffees originate in Puerto Rico, but have also spread to countries like Costa Rica, Peru, and Columbia.
There may be a bias due to the process’ name, but a major flavor profile that is described is that of honey. That is followed up with a litany of fruits, like figs and plums.
When you brew a cup, you can expect anything along the spectrum resembling either Naturals or Washed, depending on the grading. Black Honeys will lean towards Naturals with their lengthened fermentation and drying times, giving the coffee fruitier and more complex notes. Yellow Honeys will be cleaner with more clarity so as to peek through complexity and into the origin’s natural flavors, like Washed.
Try Honey Coffee!
Want to experience Honey Coffee yourself?
Current available honey options include: