If you’re a regular at a specialty coffee shop, you’ve likely come across coffees described as “honey processed.” You may have even tried one!
But did you know that there are actually several different kinds of honey processed coffees? Keep reading to learn more about each and how to choose between them!
What is honey processed coffee?
Like the natural process or washed process, honey processing is another method used by coffee farmers to break down harvested coffee cherries in order to separate the fruit of the coffee cherry from the seed. In the natural process, whole coffee cherries are laid out to dry over the course of several weeks before the seeds are removed. In the washed process, the fruit of the coffee cherries is stripped and rinsed off right after harvest. The method by which coffee is processed has a great impact on the resulting flavor profiles!
To start the honey process, coffee farmers will first depulp coffee cherries right after they’ve been picked. Depulping removes the skin and outermost fleshy fruit of the cherry, leaving just a layer of mucilage clinging to the seeds inside. The seeds are then laid out to dry; it’s during this time that the mucilage will ferment and turn into a syrupy, honey-like consistency, which is where honey processing gets its name (there’s no actual honey involved). Once the mucilage has sufficiently broken down and the seeds are fully dried, the coffee beans are then sent off for milling and prepared for export.
Since it combines elements of both the natural and washed process, the honey process can be labor intensive and tricky for farmers to consistently pull off. When done well, however, honey processed coffees are some of the most flavorful and unique coffees you’ll ever taste!
All the honeys of the rainbow
There are different ways farmers can execute the honey process in order to finely tune the flavor profiles they’re looking to achieve. In general, there are 3 distinct styles of honey processing (although some farmers are experimenting with new techniques): yellow honey, red honey and black honey.
The main differences between the 3 styles comes down to 2 factors: the amount of mucilage left on the seeds after depulping, and the frequency at which the seeds are turned and rotated while drying. In the yellow honey process, nearly all of the mucilage is removed and the coffee seeds are turned frequently. The coffees dry quickly and take on a golden yellow color, hence the name.
Less frequent turning and more mucilage left on the seeds results in a darker appearance, going from yellow to red to black. You can think of black honey as the “most” honey processed of the three, with red honey falling in between.
The many flavors of honey coffee
Generally, the darker the honey, the more intense the flavors. Given the longer contact between mucilage and seed—and more mucilage to begin with—red and black honey coffees absorb more sugars as they dry and develop sweeter, fruitier, and more complex flavors.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to experience coffees with truly singular flavor profiles, give black honey coffees a try! Expect big, expansive fruit flavors with a striking and crisp acidity.
For something more familiar, however, start with yellow honey coffees, especially if you’re new to the world of specialty coffee. These can be just as expressive and interesting as black honey coffees, but flavors will be a bit softer - more dialed back and less punchy. Yellow honey coffees make for a great everyday coffee!
Red honey coffees will offer the most balance between sweetness and complexity without being overwhelming. If you know your way around specialty coffee, we recommend starting here!
Picking the right honey coffee for you
It’s no secret that honey processed coffees are our favorites at Bean & Bean. We’re proud to showcase some of the best honey processed coffees from some of the most renowned coffee farms in the world. We offer each type of honey coffee (plus a couple of special experimental honeys!), so we’re sure you’ll find one to fall in love with.
This is a sweet, approachable coffee with bright, red fruit flavors underscored by sugary notes of toffee—like biting into a caramel apple. If you’ve never tried honey processed coffees before, we recommend starting here!
This is an exceptional coffee with delicate notes of sweet melon, jasmine and caramel. We think it's perfectly balanced with rich sweetness and clean acidity. This is a great coffee for beginners and experienced palates alike!
One of the pioneers of honey processing, the Las Lajas Micromill is one of the most esteemed and decorated coffee farms in Costa Rica. Their red honey is nothing short of a masterclass in honey processing. Expect vibrant notes of strawberry, green apple and peach, with a silky mouthfeel.
The crown jewel of Las Lajas is undoubtedly its black honey coffee. It’s their most labor intensive and time consuming coffee to produce, but the result is world-class. We find that it has an almost candy-like sweetness with rich, tropical fruit notes. Get this if you want to treat yourself (or someone else)!
The farmers of Cafelumbus in Antioquia, Colombia have implemented a special “lactic honey” method to process this coffee. It involves fermenting the coffee in a sealed, anaerobic environment which results in one of the more unique coffee profiles around. If you enjoy beverages like kombucha, natural wines, or sour beers, there’s a good chance you’ll like this coffee!