Coffee cherries are picked and sorted and, just like more conventional coffees, honey coffee has the skins and pulps removed — but unlike “washed” coffees, honey coffee is then dried without washing off the last layer of mucilage that coats the beans. This sweet and sticky membrane looks and feels a lot like honey which is where it gets its name.
Honey coffee comes in different colours.
As honey coffee dryes in the sun, the clear sticky coating on the outside of the beans oxidizes and darkens in colour to a golden yellow. If the beans continue to ferment, their colour continues to darken first to red(ish) and then finally to black. The more fruit pulp left on the bean the darker it’s colour can get.
- The white honey process involves removal of 80-100 percent of mucilage
- The yellow honey process involves removal of 50-75 percent of the mucilage
- The Red honey process involves removal of 0-50 percent of mucilage and
- The Black honey process involves the removal of the least amount of mucilage possible
Honey coffee is a lot of work!
The honey coffee process is one of the hardest and most demanding coffee processing methods which is why it tends to be a little more expensive.
- First, the producer has to pick and select only the ripest cherries to get the highest quality beans.
- The producer then has to pass the cherries through a depulper that splits the skin and uses centrifugal force to push the coffee beans out.
- Then, instead of dumping the beans in fermentation tanks, the producer has to carefully spread the beans on racks or patios to dry in the sun for 8-30 days depending on the type of honey coffee.
- While they dry, the producer has to constantly turn and rake the beans (every 1-2hrs) to eliminate the likelyhood of fermentation or rotting.
- Once they’re dry (about 12% humidity), the producer must carefully remove the remaining husk or dry parchment from the beans before meticulously selecting and packing the coffee for shipping.
Want to taste Honey Coffee?
If you want to try a unique honey coffee with a naturally sweet, fruity flavour, Café La Nariz produced by Erwin Chayax is a great place to start. It’s a hand-processed micro lot from the hills above San Juan La Laguna and it arrived early Tuesday morning courtesy of some friends and generous baggage limits. It’s especially fun to compare Café La Nariz with Café La Voz to see how the honey process affects the flavor of beans that are grown in the same area but are processed differently.
Also, Erwin and all of us at Granito want to give a big thanks to Lix Quic who, inspired by the ridgeline above San Juan, created the artwork for the Café La Nariz label. We’re also grateful to Erwin’s wife Carmen who lent us her face for the profile
I fondly remember sharing mornings with Erwin at Operation Groundswell’s Hub in San Juan La Laguna. We would often split a french press and every so often Erwin would insist we use his “special honey coffee”.
I love trying different coffees and Erwin’s was always really good but I’ll be honest, I didn’t really understand why he kept calling it ‘honey’ or what exactly made it so ‘special’.
In my defense it was probably 7:00am and, if you’re anything like me, when you’re sipping (or gulping) your morning cuppa, you’re probably not thinking about the intricacies of how your coffee was processed. I mean it can be hard enough just to get up and brew a decent cup of joe before the chaos of the day sets in.
But when Erwin said that his honey coffee was special, he wasn’t lying and now I know why.
So, what is honey coffee?
Well, despite its name and sticky appearance, there’s no actual honey involved in honey coffee, rather, it’s a method of processing coffee beans. In general terms, there are three basic methods of processing coffee:
Washed tends to be the standard and likely accounts for most, if not all, of the coffee in your cupboard. At Granito, Café La Voz, San Miguel and Santa Anita are examples of high-quality washed coffees.
Washed coffees have their pulp and mucilage removed before being washed and dried. In contrast, Natural coffees are dried in their full fruit form, pulp, skin, and all. Honey could be described as somewhere in between.
What does Honey Coffee taste like?
Because honey-processed beans spend a lot less time in water than washed beans do, there’s less fermentation and less fermentation means more leftover sugar. Predictably, more sugar creates a sweeter coffee and the slow infusion of the fruity mucilage into the beans also gives them a more complex fruity vibe. In short, honey coffee tends to be sweet, fruit-forward, and delicious!
But Honey Coffee is still Evolving!
There are so many variables to play with in this still relatively new processing method. From the choice of coffee varietal to the amount of fruit left on the bean and drying times, producers are already creating a wide range of coffees using the honey-process and there’s so much potential for this new twist on classic coffee production.