You may have seen the term - Black, Yellow, Red, White - Honey in one of our coffeeshops, but unless you ask your barista what it means, it's pretty difficult to know what it is. Basically, Honey Process is a method chosen by producers to process their coffee cherries.
First things first, let's have a look at the anatomy of a coffee cherry:
Image : Seattle Coffee Works Blog
- Skin / Pulp: On the outside, the two coffee seeds are covered by a cherry-like skin. With the exception of dried-in-the-fruit or Natural Process coffee, this outer layer is removed within a few hours of harvest.
- Mucilage: Beyond the skin lies the mucilage, a sticky, gluey substance surrounding each of the two seeds. Since it is so sugary, it is sometimes called Honey.
- Parchment: After the mucilage, a layer of cellulose protects each of the coffee seeds. When dried, this layer looks and feels like parchment paper, hence the name.
- Silverskin: Further inside, an even thinner layer coats the seed. This layer is called by this name because of its somewhat silverish sheen and comes off during roasting. If you ever notice flakes in ground coffee, that is usually silver skin that didn’t separate from the beans during the roast process.
- Coffee Bean: Normally, coffee beans come in pairs, flat against each other like peanut halves, but a strange phenomenon occurs in about 5% of the time; the coffee bean is born an only child. This one is called a Peaberry (also called caracol, or "snail" in Spanish), which is a natural mutation of the coffee bean inside its cherry.
About the process
The freshly picked cherries are sorted into a flotation tank (or by hand). Foreign bodies, waste and leaves are removed and discarded.
The ripe and healthy fruit is then pulped using a machine, taking care to remove the minimum amount of mucilage possible. Once pulped, the coffee cherries are put in the sun to dry: they are often spread out on an African bed, a patio or a concrete slab.
The rest of the mucilage around the grain then caramelizes and takes on a more amber color. In addition to taking this beautiful golden appearance, the grain absorbs the sugar contained in the mucilage. It should be noted that the Honey Process does not go through a fermentation stage: the dried grains are actually stored for one month to complete the drying.
This process is located halfway between the two natural and washed processes.
The natural process (Natural or Dry Process) begins with sorting by density (floatation tank) and then boils down to drying the selected cherries in the sun, before storing, winnowing and packaging.
Washed Process coffee has been sorted, pulped and fermented before being washed. After pulping, the fermentation step is used to remove the remaining mucilage stuck to the grain. The coffee beans are then washed to remove all of the mucilage and dried in the sun.
Specificities and complexities of Honey Process
There are several versions of Honey: Red, Black, White, Yellow, Gold, etc. But what are their differences?
The explanation is quite simple: each producers have their own recipe. Some remove a lot of mucilage, and others just a little, which explains the difference between the types of Honey Process; it all depends on the amount of mucilage kept.
Generally, for White Honey and Yellow Honey type coffees, a lot of mucilage is removed as long as Gold Honey, Red Honey and Black Honey retain more mucilage.
Also, the final result of the process varies depending on the humidity of the soil, the heat and the principle of oxidation. Particular attention is paid when drying in the sun to avoid any possible fermentation of the grains. To do this, growers must regularly stir the grains: at the same time they reduce the risk of mold.
Black Honey: lots of humidity, a longer and slower drying process, more or less shaded installation;
Red Honey and Gold Honey: dried in a hot and not very humid climate (faster drying).
Depending on the treatment "recipes" (drying time, volume of mucilage, climate, etc.), the Honey processed coffees have different and very unique tastes!
In Costa Rica, some leading producers are paying close attention to their Honey processed coffees and are focusing on quality and sustainability. That's why you can find several of them in our coffee offer.
Discover Black Honey, the most recent addition to our selection.