If you have seen our new Colombia Inga Aponte you may have noticed that it is a "red honey processed" coffee and you're not really sure what that's all about. Here's the scoop, and no, there isn't any real honey involved!
So, let's give a little bit of background before we dive in. Coffee beans as we know them are actually the seeds of little cherries that grow on trees. In order to get coffee, the seeds must be removed from inside of the cherries, and there are a few prominent methods for doing this - all of which produce different results in your cup!
The first method is the washed process. In this process, as soon as the cherries are picked off of the tree, they go through a machine that pulls the outer skin off, while leaving a layer of pulp, or mucilage around the seeds. The pulp-covered seeds are then soaked in water to encourage the pulp to come loose of the seeds. After this, the seeds sit in water for a period of several hours up to a few days to ferment. Once fermented, the seeds are then dried outside in the sun or in a mechanical dryer.
The washed method really highlights the characteristics of the seeds themselves. Typically, you will get a brighter cup of coffee with the clarity of flavor...those results are widely sought after. It also tends to be a much more reliable process for the workers.
The natural process (or dry process) is the older method here. Countries that are exposed to lots of high heat and sunlight or without reliable access to water use the natural process. Here, the cherries are dried as soon as they're picked. The cherries are laid out in the sun on raised beds or patios to dry with the seeds still inside. Once dried, the cherries are then gathered up for removal of the skin and pulp.
This method can produce a really flavorful cup of coffee with some pretty vivid and sweet flavors because the seeds have had a chance to soak in all of the flavors from the cherry as it dried. However, this process can be unreliable as it requires constant sunlight as well as constant raking of the drying cherries so as to not spoil.
Finally, we have the honey process. There are actually 3 variants of the honey process: yellow honey, red honey, and black honey; none of which actually involve honey!
Yellow honey is a process in which the outer skin is removed and some of the mucilage is left on the seeds while dried out in the sun.
In the red honey process (which is what our Colombia Inga Aponte is), the outer skin is removed and some of the mucilage is left on the seeds, just like the yellow process! However, reds are dried in the shade with some humidity to prolong the drying process. Black honey process is similar, but the seeds are dried in even more shade and even more humidity to prolong the process even more.
So translate that to the cup - a honey process coffee gives you some washed qualities and some natural qualities in a coffee, almost like a hybrid between the two processes. Typically, you'll get a cup with some really distinct flavors and good sweetness.
Got me thinking too, it would be super interesting one day (I've never done it) to try a washed, natural, and honey process of the same coffee!