Everything You Need to Know About Honey Processed Coffee

How a coffee tastes, all begins with how it’s processed. There are three main methods for processing coffee, wet-processing, dry-processing, and honey processing. Honey processed coffee is the least common way to process coffee, but one of the most interesting and complex methods.

Essentially, honey processed coffee is a hybrid method of processing coffee.  The coffee beans are first washed, but instead of removing all of the fruit’s covering from the cherry, some of it is left on the bean. It is then dried resulting in a clean, sweet, “honey” flavored coffee.

This gives you the gist of how honey processed coffee is made, but there are quite a few steps in the process of making this type of coffee.  It’s a more expensive and complicated way to process coffee than standard washed coffee or dry-processed coffee. Keep reading to get a better understanding of how honey processed coffee is made and why it’s called honey processing.

7 Steps to Honey Processed Coffee

Step 1 The cherries are harvested

No matter which method of processing is used, it all starts with harvesting the cherries from the coffee plant.  The cherries are handpicked from the coffee plant once they turn a bright red color indicating they are ripe.

Step 2 The cherries are washed and sorted

Once the cherries are selected, they are poured into a large mechanical tank where they are washed and sorted.  As the tank shakes, the unripe cherries float to the top. The water and cherries are strained through a screen, removing any unripe cherries from the batch.

Step 3 The pulp is removed from the cherries

All of the ripe cherries are depulped using a machine called a depulper. This removes most of the fruit from the bean, but leaves the outer covering, or mucilage, on the bean. Anywhere from 20 percent to 100 percent of the mucilage is removed from the beans before drying. The level of mucilage left on the bean determines which type of honey processing method is used.

Step 4 The beans are placed on a concrete patio to dry

The sticky mucilage is not washed off the beans like washed coffee. The depulped beans are transferred to a large concrete patio to dry in the sun.  Workers will rake through the beans several times a day to remove moisture and prevent rotting.

Step 5 The mucilage is washed from the beans

Depending on the type of honey process, the mucilage will either be left on the bean to ferment and dry completely, or the mucilage will be washed from the beans after drying for a period of time in the sun.

Step 6 The washed beans are dried for packaging

If there is any moisture left in the beans, they will be placed back on a concrete patio to continue drying.  When they reach a moisture level of around 10-12 percent the drying process is completed and they can be transferred for packaging.

Step 7 The beans are sorted, polished, and packaged

After the beans have dried, they are polished to remove any remaining mucilage. Workers then sort the beans, selecting the best quality beans to be packaged and shipped.

Why Is It Called Honey Processed Coffee?

You might be curious about why they call this coffee honey processed coffee. Before you read anything about this method you might assume there is honey involved in the process.  If you’ve read through the steps, you can see there is no honey involved, so why do they call it honey processing?

Interestingly, honey processed coffee has nothing to do with how the coffee is processed or its sweet honey flavor.  The mucilage, in Spanish means honey. It’s a sticky glue-like or “honey” substance, and where honey processing gets its name.

Honey processed coffee originated in Costa Rica. As farmers started working on methods to cut down on the large amount of water needed for washed coffee, they discovered a new way to process coffee.  This is why it’s called honey processing and not semi-washed coffee, which is a similar method but doesn’t leave the “honey” on the bean during drying.  Had honey processing originated in a different part of the world, it might have an entirely different name.

Types of Honey Processed Coffee

Although you might think, honey processing came about to create new specialized coffee, in reality, it was developed to reduce water consumption in the countries that produce it. However, as they started experimenting, they discovered that by leaving varying degrees of mucilage on the beans, they could produce coffees with unique, and interesting flavors.

As a general rule, there are four types of honey processed coffees, each determined by the level of mucilage left on the beans during the drying process. White honey, yellow honey, red honey, and black honey are the names referred to based on the amount of mucilage, or honey, left on the bean.

White honey

If you think about the colors of the name, you can get an idea of why this type is called white honey. It is dried for the shortest length of time of all the honey processed coffees. Eighty to one-hundred percent of the mucilage is washed and removed shortly after they have been placed in the sun to dry.  The beans are then placed back in the sun to continue drying.

Yellow honey

Yellow honey is the next level up from white honey. These beans are left in the sun to ferment for about a week. They are turned regularly like dry-processed coffee, allowing the mucilage to ferment and dry on the bean. This process removes 50-75 percent of the mucilage. The beans are then washed and dried again.

Red honey

Red honey is a merger between dry and wet-processed coffee. The beans are dried in the sun leaving 50 percent or more of the mucilage on the bean as it dries. These have to be raked regularly to prevent spoilage.  When most of the mucilage has fermented to the beans, they are washed and placed back in the sun to continue drying.

Black honey

This type of honey processing is the closest to dry processing. They are fermented in the sun for the longest period of time leaving most or all of the mucilage on the bean. Although they are washed before being dried in the sun, because much of the mucilage is left on the bean, it closely resembles natural or dry-processed coffee.

How Do You Roast Honey Processed Coffee?

If you are trying to decide how to roast honey processed coffee, start by looking at which type of honey processed coffee you are roasting. White and yellow honey processed coffees are closer to washed coffees, with less fermentation. Red and black honey processed coffees are more similar to natural coffees. The longer the fermentation, the more the flavor of the cherry will be absorbed into the beans.

As a good rule of thumb, if you want to bring out the unique flavor in honey processed coffee, you don’t want the beans to be roasted for too hot or too long. A light roast, roasting the beans until they reach the first crack, is generally preferred.

While I wouldn’t recommend using this coffee for a dark roast, deciding which roast you like best might take some experimenting. A medium roast is generally a safe choice for most coffees, including honey processed coffee. When making your decision on which roast to go with, keep in mind that roasting time and temperature can impact the flavor of this type of coffee more than standard-washed coffees.

Tim S.

Tim loves roasting, brewing, and experimenting with coffee. After years of perfecting this craft, working as a barista, and owning a small coffee service in college, he has decided to share his knowledge with the world.

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