In the last few years there has been a vast variety of different processing methods that have come to our attention. I wanted to give you a brief but detailed summary on honey processed coffee. In a recent cupping someone asked this question about honey processed coffee: "how much honey do they mix in with the green bean?". Now to a coffee person it might sound a little funny but it was a fair question. A lot of people don't know about the green bean side of coffee.
There are 3 honey processes which I will go through and discuss. Honey processed coffee is expanding throughout Central America. Costa Rica was probably the first country to experiment with this delicate and labour intensive process. During this process the skin and pulp layers are removed and a percentage of the mucilage is left on the bean to dry before being sorted and laid on raised beds. The drying stage is very important for the honey processed coffees. The beans need to be turned consistently so they are dried evenly and avoid the risk of mould.
What Is Mucilage?
As you can see in the picture above, the mucilage lies underneath the skin. The sticky and slimey coating that surrounds the bean is quite high in sugar. Due to this texture some people call the mucilage 'honey'. The more mucilage left of the bean the more complex in flavour the coffee will be.
3 Types of 'Honey'
Yellow Honey - This process is the quickest of them all. It has approximately an 8 day drying cycle (depending on temperature conditions) with ample light. Approximately 40-50% of the mucilage is left on the bean.
Red Honey - The bean is dried for 2 - 3 weeks (depending on temperature conditions) over cloud cover or shading to reduce the light that the bean is exposed to. Approximately 80-90% of the mucilage is left on the bean.
Black Honey - This process is the most delicate, labour intensive and expensive of them all. The beans are dried for at least 2 weeks (depending on temperature conditions) under tarps to eliminate light. Approximately 95-100% of the mucilage is left on the bean.
What do you get in your cup from a honey processed coffee?
Honey processed coffees are very high in sweetness, have balanced acidity and are quite complex. They typically have a fruity aspect to them. The more mucilage that is left on the bean the more distinct the fruity flavours will be.
Which honey is better?
How long is a piece of string? People say black honey is the nicest due to its complexity and depth of flavour. I think that they all have their place in the market but my preference would be the black honey process.