We’ve talked about the Washed Processing method for coffee before, as well as the Natural method. The Honey Process combines elements of both, creating a coffee that typically has fruitier, and sweeter, notes in its flavor profile. Some say that a honey-process coffee tastes like caramel, or ( you guessed it… honey). The flavors of a honey-process coffee include the sweetness of a natural process coffee, but also the brightness of a washed coffee. We don’t always offer honey-processed coffees, here at Carrabassett Coffee Company, but when we do have one, we all consider a honey-process coffee to be a special treat! Our current Colombia Narino Aponte special is processed using the honey process. (While it lasts!)
Coffee beans start out as little fruits, called coffee cherries. This fruit needs to be removed through processing in order to reveal the green seed (bean) inside. The honey-process begins by de-pulping the fruit, using some sort of rasp. De-pulping, in this case, means the removal of the fruit skin, as well as a small amount of the fruit itself.
In the washed-process, the sticky mucilage would be washed away at this point. In the wet-hull method, it would be left to ferment overnight before being washed away entirely. (In the natural process, the coffee beans would be set to dry inside the fruit, so it would not be de-pulped yet at this point in the process.) Here in the honey process, the coffee beans, still inside some of the sticky mucilage, are set to ferment for up to 3 days. Mucilage is the term for the sticky, syrupy pulp inside the skins. It’s due to the syrupy appearance of the mucilage that this is called the honey process. Because some of the mucilage is removed during the de-pulping, the risk of over-fermentation is low in this process.
After fermentation, the beans, and their sticky coating, are spread out on drying beds. These beds, or racks, must be carefully tended and raked (even hourly!) to prevent mildew or further fermentation that could occur when moisture and warm air meet. The risk of fermentation or outside influences is far lower in this honey process than it would be in the natural process, however, due to the lesser amount of fruit on the beans. Less fruit means less moisture, meaning less chances for the coffee to end up tasting sour or otherwise “off.” It can take 10-15 days, (or longer in unfavorable weather conditions) for the beans to reach 10% moisture content.
The beans are milled, once they are dry enough, which removes the dried mucilage and the protective parchment hull. Typically, the milling occurs using machinery, which removes the dried, sweet, outer layer as well as the protective parchment. The green coffee beans, now exposed, can be bagged and shipped to roasters all over the world.
A great middle-ground between other coffee processing methods, the honey-process creates a special bean, with a clean bright flavor caused by the precision of the drying process (remember all that raking?), and extra sweetness in your cup because the sugars in the fruit pulp are left to remain on the beans throughout the entire drying process.