Somewhere In The Middle, Honey Coffees - Part #3
Thirdly in our mini series on coffee processing methods, we take a look at what is perhaps our team's favourite on a personal level - is this the future of speciality coffee? Having previously covered an introduction to the ever reliable washed coffees and the funkier tasting natural processing method, here we talk through coffee's honey processing method.
Honey processed coffees - an introduction
As we’ve discussed, processing in its simplest form is just the act of removing the cherries and mucilage from the coffee. The order in which these are removed and the time taken both help to characterise the different methods. Indeed, the same principles apply with honey processing, a method first developed in Costa Rica in which is aptly named after the sticky, honey-like mucilage that surrounds coffee bean when drying.
Just like washed coffees, cherries are sorted to ensure only the best are included in production and depulped to remove the skin as soon as possible. However, the main difference between the two is that the mucilage on the cherries are kept in tact with honey processing. With all of the mucilage remaining, next comes the drying phrase, a time when a varying percentage of mucilage is removed depending on which type of honey processing being used. Whilst the full 100% of mucilage is removed in other methods, between 25% -100% of the mucilage remains for honey processing. The three different types include:
1 Yellow honey process - the intention is to have as little mucilage as possible, between 25%-35%, in which the drying process is done as quick as possible to minimise natural fermentation. Of the three, these coffees can be considered closest to washed coffees.
2 Red honey process - between 40%-60% of the mucilage is preserved, achieving a nice balance somewhere between washed and natural coffees. Wherever the percentage lies within this middle segment, the middle ground balance will owe itself to producing a nicely balanced, often syrupy body coffee - you may consider these a washed natural (okay, that's not actually a thing, but its about as half / half as can be achieved).
3 Black honey process - you guessed it, here we see the mucilage percentage being between 65% - 100%, with these coffees characteristically much closer to natural coffees than those washed.
Innovation in the face of natural issues: Costa Rica's coffee production honey process
Costa Rica is a country that has a history of water shortage and thereby is renowned for their conscious approach to coffee farming and are well known for their eco-friendly practices. This is evident in honey processing as this method involves far less water during the washing phase than typical washed processing. The washed coffee processing method has been criticised for being wasteful as it uses a high volume of water, much of which is never re-used.
In light of their water shortage, the yellow honey process is Costa Rica's equivalent innovation in attempting to best replicate the washed processing method in a much less water intensive way. For both the red and black honey process, whilst other processing methods will typically allow for the coffee beans to be dried on large beds fully exposed to the sun outside, here the farmers shield the coffee beans from direct sunlight in tent-like structures to purposefully slow down the drying process and allow for more of the sugars from the mucilage to interact with the beans.
Intrigued? As honey processing uses less water than true washed coffees, the by-product of this is less fermentation which results in less acidity in the cup. For those of you who tend to steer away from bright coffees or those with high levels of acidity, honey processed coffee may just provide the great option that ticks all the taste, quality and environmental boxes you're after. You will find Honey processed coffees across all our coffee subscription choices.
Speciality coffee - appreciate the process
This brings us on to the taste of honey processed coffee. As the mucilage interacts with the bean, the natural sugars within the mucilage seep into the bean to create a sweeter taste in the cup. That honey-like sweetness is really pleasant and compliments the sweeter, chocolatey tasting notes commonly associated with South American coffee. Given the above spectrum of mucilage percentiles, it is actually quite hard to definitively share a description of what you may expect from this process. In our best attempt, you may perhaps enjoy the genuine flavours that washed coffees exhibit, whilst also some of the funky sweetness that characterise natural coffees.
Customise your coffee subscription
We hope you may now have a better understanding of the honey processing method as you will no doubt come across it more and more frequently as its popularity continues to grow. From a coffee drinker’s point of view, probably the main thing to remember when you see a honey processed listing is to expect a coffee somewhere in between natural and washed. Whilst in our coffee subscription personalisation settings we offer the ability to select a preference to washed or natural coffees - or none at all -, we purposefully don't have a third setting for honey processed coffees. Why? Firstly supply, as there are less honey processed coffees available than the other methods, but also because it sits somewhere in between the two ends of the processing spectrum and we like to ensure that our coffee subscriptions aren't overly complicated for those who are new to coffee or too restricted in terms of not providing you the opportunity to try other similarly processed coffees that sit either side of this middle ground grey area.
If you're new to coffee, we hope all this about coffee processing is starting to make sense now. What the best of coffee producers do is an art and here lies yet another reason why speciality coffee is so much better than commodity coffee - enjoy the coffee, appreciate the process.
GUSTATORY (adjective): curating excellence in taste.