When you hear of the honey processing method, you may think the coffee beans are processed with actual honey.
Everyone who is new to specialty coffee has thought the same thing. If you stop and think about it, that would take a ton of honey.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no actual honey used in this processing method.
There are three types of processing methods used to create the great flavors we love so much. These three types of processing methods are washed, natural, and honey.
Once you have learned the different methods of processing, you will be able to predetermine the flavors of your favorite coffees from the processing method used.
What are the basic steps of the honey method?
All three methods begin with the same important element. This extremely important element is the cherry that grows from the coffee plant.
These cherries are harvested from the plants by either hand or machine. The coffee beans are inside of these precious cherries.
Here comes the sticky part
The mucilage is a sticky substance that is left on the coffee beans once the cherry leaves have been removed. This particular method thrives on the sticky substance for added flavors.
In the other two methods, the sticky mucilage is washed or hulled away. The coffee beans will be stored in their sticky glory for 1 to 3 days in order to ferment. The next part is how the name was obtained. The longer the coffee beans are left to ferment will determine the color that the mucilage has left them.
The least fermented beans will be yellow in color, the beans that are fermented longer than the yellow ones will be red, the beans that are fermented the longest will be black. The mucilage makes it look like colored honey whether it is yellow, red, or black.
Raking, Drying and Hulling The Beans
This is an extremely important part of the process. With the coffee beans being sticky and wet, they will need to be thoroughly dried to 10 percent of a moisture rate to be safely shipped around the world.
The beans will have to be raked routinely and constantly monitored to prevent an insect infestation or mold and other bacteria to grow. After some time the honey substance becomes dry and less sticky to the touch.
Once the beans are dried, they can be hulled by machines to remove the parchment and the remaining mucilage on the beans. When the hulling process is completed, then the coffee beans can be shipped all over the world.
The black honey coffee beans take longer to ferment. This means that there is a higher chance of having something go wrong.
These coffees are harder to come by due to the higher chance of bad things occurring. These coffees are a little more expensive than the lighter colored honey beans.
The honey method is the middleman of methods
The honey method has similarities to both the washing method and the natural method. It is the common ground of all three.
The coffee beans with the honey processing method are separated from the cherry before the ferment and dry phase. This has common ground with the washing process.
The common ground for the natural and honey method is for the coffee beans to sit with the sticky mucilage still intact for a while. This helps to give the beans a sweet flavor.
Who uses the honey method?
This method isn't cheap at all. It doesn't have a ton of wasted water like the washing method, but it does have a lot of workers to pay.
The coffee beans have to be raked every 2 to 3 hours to keep them from being infested with insects, molds, or other bacteria. Paying those workers with decent and fair wages is very costly for the farmers.
If you want high-quality specialty coffee, you won't mind paying extra money. The honey processing method started in Brazil and now is used all over the world. It takes less time to dry than the natural process which is why farmers love using this method.
What does this process make the coffee taste like?
Honey processed coffees are incredibly sweet from the extra time the beans get to sit with the sticky mucilage. All of those caramelized sugars really seep in during the fermenting phase.
These coffee beans have a medium-high acidity and great clarity.
If you enjoy sweet, complex, and heavy-bodied coffee, you will love the honey processing method.