The idea of “Honey Coffee” might be new to you; it was to us. First of all, honey coffee does not involve traditional bee honey. The “honey,” as it is used in coffee, refers to the a sweet pulp or mucilage of the coffee cherry (the cherry is the fruit on the outside of the coffee bean, see illustration below).
With honey coffee, some of the mucilage, anywhere from 40-100%, is left on the bean during the drying process. This allows the sugars from the pulp to ferment during drying. When it is done correctly, the process creates a unique flavor. This method is becoming increasingly popular in Costa Rica.
There are a couple of critical factors to honey coffee being well-made. The first is to ensure that it is done in the correct environment. If the humidity level is not appropriate, it will impact the drying process negatively. Second, during drying, the beans need to be moved or shifted regularly to avoid bacteria and mold. Also, the amount of light the beans receive is manipulated to slow the drying process, maximizing the flavor and body of the coffee. This means that the drying process takes from 1-3 weeks with honey coffee (instead of days). Finally, the beans need to be measured for moisture content, so that the drying can stop at just the right time (between 10-12% moisture content). If it dries too much, the beans will crack and won’t roast well. If they don’t dry enough, the wetter beans become attractive to bacteria and deteriorate more quickly.
1 – Center Cut
2 – bean
3 – Silver Skin
4 – Parchment
5 – Pectin Layer
6 – Pulp
7 – Outer Skin
This honey process is called a semi-wet process. Traditionally, coffee beans are either wet-processed or dry-processed. The wet-process uses water to completely remove the outer layers of the cherry, but the washing process also removes the sugars which enhance the taste of the beans. Additionally, some wet-processing methods create significant amounts of wastewater which can pollute the environment. The dry-processing method is how coffee was originally dried and this process continues to be widely used. However, it is a longer process filled with inconsistencies. Since the coffee is left outside to dry in the sun, the process can be impacted significantly by environmental changes such as high humidity or rain in the period of time after harvest season when the coffee is dried.
The wet-process typically produces more acidic coffee that has a stronger aroma while dry-processed generally produces sweeter and stronger coffee flavors. The honey coffee results is unique in that it takes advantage of the sweetness while reducing the acidity and giving it a fuller body and heavier mouth feel.