Honey Process Coffee Beans – Are they the Best?

Coffee Beans meet innovative Honey Processing Methodology

It was the International Jurors who first brought the Costa Rica honey process coffees to everyone’s attention.  Much to the shock of traditional roasters, this distinct, sweet flavoured, lighter roasted bean took all the Awards.  The coffee world perked up and took notice.

What happened to cause tongues to stir and an entire industry to reevaluate itself?

Much like the wine industry and micro beer breweries, coffee beans have benefited from smaller innovative processing methodology.  We continue to witness, in my opinion, the birth of an artisan industry fuelled by specialization.

Before the demucilage machine was invented, coffee beans were sent to a central processing facility that received “lots” from surrounding coffee farms.  The benefit of using a central processor was that a small holder farmer might only produce five or six bags of coffee and this provided one of the means to get the crop to market.

Honey process coffees are processed at the farm level; they never go to a central processor.  The farmer, armed with a job specific machine to remove the mucilage, could finally control the taste outcome of his own coffee beans.

There is no bee honey in the honey process

Honey process coffees can be found in parts of Africa, like Ethiopia, and parts of Central and South America.  Their taste profiles differ slightly from traditionally processed coffee beans.

Once the coffee is ready to be harvested, the reddest ripest cherries are picked and sorted by hand.   A coffee cherry typically contains two seeds and is multi-layered including skin, flesh, mucilage and parchment coverings.

With washed process coffees,  depulping removes the fruit material from the coffee cherry, separating the seed out of the cherry like skin.

This is where it gets interesting.   With honey process coffees, only the skin is removed.   The seed is allowed to dry with some or all of the mucilage.  Just how much mucilage and how the layers are removed impacts the final taste of the coffee

Coffee Beans and Honey Process
Coffee Beans and Honey Process (from left to right) yellow, red and black.

How honey processing differs from the washed process

Once coffee has been picked, it needs to be depulped; this usually happens 8-12 hours after picking.  Depending on what outcome the farmer is looking for, he can choose to remove more or less mucilage.   The sticky seeds are then taken to drying beds where the seeds are spread thinly and turned to dry.   This method produces the yellow honey coffees, mild and with tendencies similar to washed process coffee.

To produce red and black honeys, coffee may be raked into piles up before being turned and raked over.  This method causes greater fermentation of the seeds, and produces a fruitier and winier outcome.   Red honeys will exhibit a fruity sweetness and heavy syrupy body.  Black honeys tend towards a winier sweetness and creamy body, more closely related to a natural process.

In all, it will take two to three weeks for the coffee to fully dry and reach an optimum moisture content of 11%.  The coffee is then stored and the parchment will be removed before the bags of coffee are shipped.

A few years back we were lucky to get our hands on several bags of Costa Rica microlot yellow honey and it was well-received by our customers.  More recently we brought in a small sample of an Ethiopia Anderacha red honey, also selling out quickly.  This month we have the Ethiopia Anderacha black honey.  We are curious to see what you think about this honey coffee.

Happy tasting!




About the author: Susan Bate
Nothing beats enjoying my morning coffee in the great outdoors