So what is honey processed coffee?

So what is honey processed coffee?

White, Yellow, Red and Black Honey processed coffees are terms you might increasingly come across when choosing a coffee to buy, especially coffees from Costa Rica where honey processing has been a huge factor in the speciality coffee revolution. So what is honey processing and how exactly does it affect the flavour of coffee in the cup?

Firstly we should probably state that this process has has nothing to do with actual honey itself. Rather it’s the sticky sweet mucilage that is left on the drying beans during this process that reminds producers of honey and so that’s how this process got its name.

After picking the ripe coffee cherries most coffee is either processed in one of two ways – fully washed or natural (you can see our earlier journal post on this here for a fuller explanation). Briefly, natural coffees are dried in their fruit (skin, pulp and mucilage all) while fully washed coffees are de-pulped and washed (with their skin, pulp and mucilage fully removed) before being dried.

In the honey process however a certain amount of mucilage is left on the bean before it is dried. The more mucilage that is left, the darker the ‘honey’. So white and yellow honeys have minimal mucilage left on them, while red and black honeys will have more. Of course the more mucilage that is left on the bean the greater the care that has to be taken when drying. As a general rule of thumb, the darker the honey the greater the effort required from the producer. Red honeys will be dried slowly with greater humidity – usually under some shade while black honeys will be dried even more slowly and under even more shade. They will require a lot of attention, needing to be turned regularly and a keen eye kept on them to prevent any insect damage, mould or over-fermentation. But the effort is certainly worth it. Producers can demand higher prices for honey-processed coffees and the quality of the coffee can be phenomenal.

So how does the honey process affect the cup quality?

Drying the beans with a certain amount of mucilage intact (essentially creating an extended fermentation) will create fruit forward, sweet and full-bodied coffees. Dark honeys will make a delicious super sweet espresso, while white and yellows will still have all the clean and sweet notes for an exceptional filter. And although acidity is more muted in honey processed coffees than those that are fully washed the honeys will still benefit from some great acidity as well as having loads of body – basically creating the best of both worlds!