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 these referred to as “pulped natural” and in some respects they fall between washed and natural coffee processes. The term became popular in Brazil where the process originated, though more recently Central American countries and now some African countries have begun to experiment with honey processed coffees with some exciting results.


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 under-ripe counterparts. 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 this drying process. There is no honey from bees involved.


The four common grades or “degrees” of honey are white, yellow, red, and black. Originally, the degree of honey was determined by the amount of time that was allotted for the coffee to dry, with white and yellow honey using shorter drying times, red honey being slightly longer, and black honey being the longest. Today the degree of honey is determined by the amount of mucilage left on the bean during drying, with white honey having the least, yellow honey more, red honey even more, and black honey the most. Depulping machines that allow for leaving variable amounts of mucilage on the bean has allowed mills to standardize drying times, and as a result, meet increased demand honey processed coffees.  

White and yellow tend to be closest in characteristics to a fully washed coffee. Often you'll find delicate and clean flavor notes with this method. Red honey coffees tend to have more fruity flavor notes while still maintaining the complexity, nuance, and acidity of washed coffees. Black Honey, because it retains the most pulp during drying, tends to be very fruit forward (much like a natural) with heavier body and more muted acidity. One of our favorite coffees here at 802 Coffee is our Costa Rica Aurora Micro Lot. It is Red Honey processed and also represents our first fully exclusive coffee, which we are proud to have brought on as an exclusive for over seven years. Another fantastic Honey processed coffee in our lineup is our Colombia El Naranjo.