Updated: Jul 9, 2018
The Honey Process (also called Pulped Natural) is a method of coffee processing first used in Brazil, which involves drying coffee with a certain amount of fruit left on the bean. The skin is removed to expose the flesh (in Spanish miel, meaning honey) and then dried for a number of weeks. After the coffee has been sufficiently dried the fruit and parchment is mechanically removed. It is thought sugars from the fruit seep into the bean, adding sweetness, body and reducing acidity.
Coffee processed in this way has the outer skin and a percentage of the fruit removed by water or mechanical depulpers. The drying beans must be regularly attended to, either placed on raised beds to encourage airflow or continuously turned on patios to prohibit the growth of mould.
In recent years, Honey processed coffees have become increasingly popular and as such, it has given way to many variations on the practice. Different flavours can be unlocked depending on the amount of fruit left on the bean and the drying time. Below are a few terms to help understand the variations.
White Honey – 10-20% of the fruit’s flesh is left on the bean for drying.
Yellow Honey – 30-40% of the fruit’s flesh is left on the bean.
Red Honey – 50-70% of the fruit’s flesh is left on the bean.
Black Honey – 70% or more of the fruit’s flesh is left on the bean.
Be aware that these terms are by no means standardised. In terms of taste, the white honey is closest in processing terms to the washed method, and can therefore be expected to taste the most acidic. The black honey can be expected to taste the least acidic but exhibit more fermented fruit flavours and a heavier body. These expectations should only be true if the coffee beans are the same varietal from the same lot; a red honey processed SL28 varietal might be more acidic than a white honey processed Bourbon.
These terms are also somewhat imperfect as they do not take into account drying times or method. In very humid environments, coffee may need to be dried artificially. Some coffees might be dried on raised beds or on a patio, under the sun or in shade. Have a look at these two coffees from Workshop; they are the same lot but have variances in their honey processing. Samuel Gurel of Torch Coffee has also made this video with a graphic to show the diversity in the processing methods. This should shed some light on the complexities of honey processing and the results that can be achieved.
Where is it most popular?
First used in Brazil, it is still a country which practices the Pulped Natural process. But countries in Central America, like Guatemala and Costa Rica, have made it their own. Naming it the Honey Process has given it a sweeter appeal and more work is being done in the region to develop the process further. There are also some great honey processed coffees from Java, Indonesia. China too, is on the act, introducing a whole host of in-country terms (fruit names like mango) which few are able to understand.
Natural and Honey Process coffees are set to become more abundant as more farmers seek to experiment and produce greater results. This can only be good for the development of the specialty coffee industry, for farmers selling higher priced coffees and for consumers getting greater variety. The environmental factor should not be overlooked too, with eco-honey processes using less water, thus reducing the pollution that large volumes of water in the wet process can cause.