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What's with the Honey? A Guide to Coffee Processing

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Similarly to the growing conditions of coffee and methods of picking, the methods used for processing the green beans will also have a major affect in the cup. There are 3 major processing methods:

WASHED

Washed coffee, also referred to as the wet process, is when the coffee cherry is pulped by a machine referred to as a pulper. This means that the outer layer of skin is removed. Once this outer layer has been removed, the bean with its mucilage is then fermented in water for several days. That softens the sticky cherry pulp surrounding the beans and enhances acidity and any of the finer floral aromatics a coffee may possess.  After the fermentation process, the bean is then washed from its mucilage and what is left is the bean surrounded by two additional layers, the silver skin and the parchment. The beans must be dried to a water content of about 10% before they are stable. 

When dried in the sun coffee is most often spread out in rows on large patios or raised beds where it needs to be raked every six hours to promote even drying and prevent the growth of mildew. Drying coffee this way has the advantage of allowing air to circulate better around the beans promoting more even drying but increases cost and labor significantly.

After the drying process, the parchment skin is easily removed in the hulling process and the beans are bagged and shipped. 

NATURAL

Natural process is also known as dry process. It's the oldest and the simplest way to process coffee, but its also very hard to get right. The entire cherry after harvest is cleaned and then placed in the sun to dry on tables or in thin layers on patios. Only carefully selected beans at the precise stage of ripeness are chosen. As the cherries laid out to dry, they are turned by hand to ensure even drying and prevent mildew. It may take up to 4 weeks before the cherries are dried to the optimum moisture content, depending on the weather conditions. 

During the drying process sugars and flavours in the fruit are concentrated and absorbed into the bean, imparting heavier body and powerful yet refined fruit flavours. A coffee that has been overdried will become brittle and produce too many broken beans during hulling (broken beans are considered defective beans). Coffee that has not been dried sufficiently will be too moist and prone to rapid deterioration caused by the attack of fungi and bacteria.Under. 

HONEY

So what's with the honey? This might be confusing, as no honey is used in the process nor does the roasted bean taste like honey. But this process, also known as Semi-washed or Pulped Natural, leaves pulp on the beans which makes them sticky, much like honey. There are various of Honey types processing, each based on the level of pulp left on the bean before drying as well as drying time. Each type will have different profile as the amount of pulp left will affect differently the cup. Here are the common types:

  • White Honey process removes 90-100% mucilage from the bean and dries uncovered for a clean and balanced cup.
  • Golden Honey process removes 75-80% of the mucilage and dries uncovered that leads to a crisp and citrusy cup.
  • Yellow Honey process removes as much as 50% of the mucilage, dries uncovered and produces a cup with floral and apricot notes.
  • Red Honey removes 20-25% of the mucilage, dries uncovered and results in a sweet and syrupy cup (check out our Costa Rica Tarrazu Tirra Estate Red Honey Microlot)
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  • Black Honey process removes none of the mucilage, dries covered which causes some fermentation and produces a coffee that is sweet, full-bodies with fruity depth

The Honey process is the most difficult and demanding of all to execute well, but the reward for success is a coffee with the fine elegant attributes of a top washed coffee, coupled with the more substantial body and fruit sweetness of a natural.When done correctly, the honey process results in a very pleasant tasting cup profile with accentuated sweetness, body and citrusy overtones.

Di Bartoli offers coffees from all 3 processing methods. The dry method is used for about 90% of the Arabica coffee produced in Brazil, most of the coffees produced in Ethiopia, as well as for some Arabicas produced in India. Washed process is able to highlight the true character of a single origin bean like no other process – and it’s the reason why so many specialty coffees are washed. You will find it in PeruColombia and other Latin American countries. The honey process is strongly associated with Costa Rica  and the various honey types reflect the ability this process has to influence the taste and overall profile of a coffee. It can become a highly scientific process, as the level of mucilage – which influences the sweetness and depth of body of the coffee – is monitored and controlled. Typically, the more mucilage left on the bean, the sweeter the taste.