Honey Process Explained 🐝
What makes a coffee taste unique is more than just how & where it was grown - what happens after it's picked (the "processing" stage) has a huge impact on the aromas, flavors & characteristics off the final cup. We want to take a quick dive into a novel method called the "Honey Process"!
Want to try a Honey Process Coffee? Check out our current offering, Costa Rica Rinconcito!
What exactly is "Coffee Processing"?
To understand what makes a "Honey Process" coffee, it's helpful to have a basic understanding of how coffee is grown and the two dominant styles of processing. The "coffee bean" is actually the seed of a fruit from the flowering plants in the Coffea genus - the most prominent among them being Coffea Arabica, the species responsible for the majority of coffee cultivated globally. The tree produces a small red fruit, a "coffee cherry" (pictured left - a bag of red, ripe coffee cherry).
Inside each cherry are two seeds. Processing is all about separating the seed from the fruit of the cherry, then drying that seed so it can be stored long term & eventually roasted. The most common processing method for our coffees is the "Washed Process", where the cherry is mechanically depulped, then the coffee seed is submerged in water. During this submersion, fermentation helps break down any remaining fruit and let it be "washed away" from the seed, which is then dried to a relatively low moisture content.
The other major style of processing, the "Natural Process", skips the depulping and soaking stages entirely, letting the entire coffee cherry dry as one unit. Only once dried is the seed extracted from the cherry.
So how is Honey Processing different?
We like to think of Honey Processing as a hybrid style! Honey Process coffees undergo the initial mechanical depulping step similar to a washed coffee, but instead of soaking are then dried with the mucilage (the sticky fruit pulp) on the seed. Generally speaking, the process tends to produce coffees that have an intense, sweet fruit characteristic similar to stewed fruit, along with a heavy, creamy body and very mild acidity.
Honey Processing is a great option for coffee producers who want a consistent, clean flavor profile (not risking the over-fermented, funky flavors found in poor quality naturals), while using significantly less water than a washed process coffee.
Water conservation is a huge reason why we find the majority of Honey Process coffees in Costa Rica; faced by serious water shortages, the government has strict rules around water usage in the agricultural sector. Honey Processing is one among many ways that coffee producers have used to adapt to new regulations!
What does it have to do with bees & honey?
While bee hives are often found on coffee farms as pollinators, no honey is actually used in the production of Honey Process coffees. The name "Honey Process" comes from the color!
The sticky fruit left to dry on the seed gives the coffee a golden amber hue (pictured right) with a unique aroma. The "Honey" name comes from the smell and color of the coffee seed during the drying stage.
Depending on the amount of fruit left on the seed, Honey Process coffees are often characterized by color: "black", "red", "yellow", or "white". Black Honey coffees have the most amount of fruit mucilage left on the seed, and Yellow & White the least. The varying amounts of fruit impact how intense the flavors imbued by the processing are in the final cup.