Our Las Lajas Yellow Honey and Black Honey, produced by Oscar and Francisca Chacon of the Las Lajas Micromill in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, were dried and milled using what is known as the honey process
There are two main processes for removing the flesh of the coffee cherry from the seed so that it can be dried. In a typical wet process the flesh is first removed, then the coffee seed is dried. The natural process, also known as the dry process, involves drying the coffee fruit whole before removing the flesh. The honey process involves components of both methods.
Honey processing does not involve honey.
The roasted beans you grind and brew are only the seed of the coffee fruit. The sticky, sugary layer beneath the skin is called the mucilage. In honey processing the skin is removed but the mucilage is left on the seed to dry. It is the sticky texture and the golden amber color of the mucilage reminiscent of honey that led coffee producers to name this method the honey process.
The mucilage layer - Photo by Stanislaw Szydlo
Honey processing uses less water.
The wet process is aptly named - almost all of its steps typically involve water. Water is used to transport, swell, sort, and finally to wash the coffee bean before it is dried. It can take over 40 gallons of water to produce a single cup of coffee!
The main water savings of the honey process are realized at the last step, the removal of the mucilage. Drying the mucilage on the bean allows it to be mechanically removed without requiring the water consumption of a final wash.
Honey processing imparts unique flavors and aromas to the coffee.
Some of the most exciting flavors and aromas of great coffee are created during the fermentation of pectin and sugars found in the mucilage. The honey process capitalizes on this stage and imparts unique flavors which can turn an unremarkable coffee into a truly great one.
Honey processed coffees are broken down into categories on a spectrum from white to black. There is some variation in honey processing techniques in different parts of the world. Generally, lighter colors indicate faster drying times and less fermentation, while darker colors indicate longer drying times and therefore more fermentation.
The Costa Rican honey processed coffees we offer were dried with 100% of the mucilage left intact. The drying time is controlled by how frequently the processor turns the coffee.
Our Las Lajas Black Honey is turned only once per day, slowing the drying time and allowing bacteria and yeast more time to break down the pectins and sugars into acids and alcohols which combine to produce flavor compounds. Look for peach, raspberry, citrus, and winey notes.
Las Lajas Yellow Honey is turned hourly and dries more quickly and evenly. Look for peach, floral, and (yes) honey notes.