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What’s honey got to do with it?

Whether you’re a full-fledged coffee nerd or new to the world of specialty coffee, you might have noticed that some roasts are labeled as ‘honeys.’ And, for many, associating the syrupy golden liquid with a freshly brewed cup of caffeine can be somewhat confusing.

What do honey and coffee have to do with each other? Are the beans in your bag infused with honey? Is it used to describe the taste? Or is your barista flirting with you by suggesting an exclusive ‘honey’ just for you?

The answer, to all of the above, is: no (besides the last one, we’ll let you be the judge of that). ‘Honey’ actually refers to the way in which the coffee beans are processed. And if you love a vibrant, well-rounded brew with fruity notes and a lingering finish, then honey processed coffees are absolutely worth getting acquainted with.

So whether you’re a true coffee pioneer in search of the perfect cup or just a confused coffee drinker blasting Tina Turner and wondering “what’s honey got to do with it?”, look no further: here’s why honeys are all the hype.

honey processed coffee

Honey processing 101

Fun fact: coffee is actually a fruit. And in order to get the seeds (beans) which we all know and love ready for export, coffee cherries need to be ‘processed’ and their fruit flesh removed. The three main ways to process coffee are washed, natural, and honey.

During washed processing, coffee seeds are fully cleaned before they are dried: their outer fruit flesh is first removed with a depulping machine, and then they are soaked in water to loosen the inner layers of fruit which stick to the beans. Natural processing, on the other hand, involves drying coffee entirely in the fruit: the cherries are only ‘hulled’ to remove the beans inside once they have been fully dried.

Honey processing lies somewhere between the two. Similar to washed processing, the coffee cherries are first depulped, but the innermost layer that surrounds the bean, called the mucilage, is kept intact. The sugars in the mucilage break down while drying, creating a sticky, honey-like consistency which clumps the coffee beans together. Behold, the source behind the name of the mysterious ‘honey’ coffees.

different types of coffee processing infographic

Bold flavor with a minimal impact

Now that we’ve covered the technical aspects, let’s get to the good stuff. Why are we drawn to this coffee like bees to (you guessed it) honey?

1. Phenomenal taste

Honey processing provides endless opportunities for new, complex flavor profiles. Similar to a classic natural, honeys tend to be sweet and full-bodied, but they also pack the clear flavor and pleasant acidity that washed coffees are renowned for.

2. Room for experimentation

The flavor of honeys can easily be influenced: the more mucilage is left on the beans while drying, the more sweetness and body can be tasted in the final cup. Honeys can therefore resemble both washed coffees (as with ‘yellow honeys’) as well as naturals (‘red’ and ‘black’ honeys).

But it’s not just their flavor that’s causing all the buzz: honeys offer a sustainable alternative to coffee processing which can have huge benefits for farmers and the land on which they grow.

3. Saves water

Honey processing requires little to no water. Water contamination is an inherent side effect of washed processing, since soaking the beans to remove the sticky mucilage turns water acidic. Through keeping the mucilage intact while drying, honey processing limits the use of water and prevents the creation of residual waste.

4. Lower risk

During natural processing, drying coffee ‘in the fruit’ comes with risks of mold and over-fermentation. Even though honey processing can be labor intensive (the beans need to be turned often so that they don’t clump together), it offers a more reliable method for farmers without requiring additional resources.

Go for gold. 

While honey processing remains experimental in the eyes of many, we see it as a goldmine for developing sustainable farming methods and unprecedented flavor profiles. Unfortunately, we don’t have any honeys in our permanent selection of coffees yet, but it’s a work in progress (our friend Silvio has been running some exciting experiments on his farm lately, so stay tuned!). 

In the meantime, we’ve got a select amount honeys left in store for our subscribers (read more about coffee subscriptions here). We’ll even let you in on a sweet secret: our current coffee of the month is honey processed, and if you subscribe today, we’ll be sure to send some your way. 

Let’s go, honey. 

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