Process Stories Part 3: Honey

The third in a series of articles discussing coffee processes.
There's a lot that goes into making a cup of coffee. The region the coffee was grown in will effect flavor. The specific cultivar the fruit comes from will effect flavor. How the coffee is roasted will certainly effect flavor. Another crucial element in determining what you'll taste in the cup is how the coffee is 'processed.' 
Maybe you've seen this term bandied about before. A barista at your local shop may have mentioned it. Maybe the words 'natural process' or 'washed' appeared on a bag of coffee you bought. Well, let's get into what we're talking about when we talk about process. 
Processing happens at wet and dry mills after the coffee cherries have been harvested. The methods used and the care put into the processing will both have dramatic effects on the characteristics of the bean from that point forward. It really is one of the most important phases in coffee’s long journey from tree to cup. Here we will discuss one of the most common processing methods used in specialty coffee and how it affects the attributes we taste in the final product.                                                            



Honey Processed - Occasionally you'll also see this referred to as “pulped natural.” In some respects they fall in between washed and natural coffee processes. The term became popular in Brazil where the process originated though more recently Central American countries (most notably Costa Rica) have begun to experiment with, and produce amazing honey processed coffees.

The honey process, like all of the other processes begins with the harvesting of ripe coffee cherries. Similar to washed coffees, the cherries are delivered to a wet mill where they are “floated” to separate the denser ripe cherries from their underripe counterparts. The ripe cherries are then fed from the bottom of the floating tank and sent through a modified de-pulping machine that will take just the skin and very top layer of pulp off of the fruit. This leaves the majority of the pulp on the parchment and bean. The still gooey beans are then laid on a patio or raised bed to air dry. “Honey,” or “miel” in Spanish refers to the thick, sticky sweet consistency that the pulp takes on during the drying process. There is no honey from bees involved.

The three common grades of honey are yellow, red, and black (though some farmers are beginning to experiment with what they call a "white" honey process). There is some variation on how these grades are achieved but the most common has to do with the amount of time the coffee is given to dry. Yellow honey typically has a relatively fast drying time of one to two weeks. With less time for the bean to absorb the sugars and flavors of the pulp, they tend to be closest in characteristics to a fully washed coffee. Red honey coffees have a drying time of one and a half to three weeks. These coffees characteristically have more fruity flavor notes while still maintaining the complexity, nuance, and acidity of washed coffees. Black Honey beans are the closest to a full natural with a drying time of anywhere between three weeks to one month. They tend to be very fruit forward (much like a natural) with heavier body and more muted acidity. One of our favorite coffees here at 802Coffee is our Costa Rica Aurora Micro Lot. It is Red Honey processed and also represents our first fully exclusive coffee.

Next up: Making sense of the confusion that is "wet-hulled" coffee.