We recently launched a new range of Signature Collection coffees featuring single origin specialty coffees from around the globe. Our newest member of this collection is Santa Maria Honey.
This Nicaraguan single origin coffee comes from Santa Maria, one of seven estates that stretch across the districts of Jinotega and Matagalpa, owned by Victor Robelo, as part of the Las Nubes group.
Jinotega is the second largest district in the Central American country of Nicaragua, located in the north, bordering neighbouring Honduras, with Matagalpa bordering Jinotega to the south.
Originally bought in the late 90’s after the cessation of hostilities between the Contras and Sandinistas involved in Nicaragua’s civil war, the farms were subsequently planted with Victor’s fathers’ favourite coffee varietals, Yellow Catuai and Caturra.
The estate controls the entire process from start to finish ensuring that they are able to craft the highest quality parcels of coffee.
After harvesting, the coffee is subsequently processed using the farms’ own wet mill, before being taken as either wet parchment (if the coffee is to be washed) or in cherry form (if the coffee is to be left as natural coffee) to the drying mill at Matagalpa for further processing.
There are essentially three main coffee bean processing methods, with each differing in the number of layers they remove before the beans are dried and the Honey process is one of these. Below we will explore each and what’s involved and why in this instance the Honey Process comes into play.
Essentially the cherry is harvested and then dried whole.
This is the world over the oldest method, for harvesting and processing coffee and is still used extensively in countries where water is in short supply.
Drying coffee in this way preserves the natural fruit flavours of the bean and as a result these coffees tend to be fruitier and brighter than most others.
The cherry is harvested and taken for processing, using a specialist machine, known as a de-pulper, which removes the light brown seed from the red cherry prior to drying.
The beans are then put into fermentation tanks until the sugars in the mucilage are broken down and the beans are no longer sticky, the process also removes most of the fruit flavours and natural acidity found in the beans, delivering subtler flavoured coffees.
Depending on the fermentation method used this can take anything between half a day to almost a week. Once the sugars are removed any remaining mucilage is removed by washing the beans in lots of water.
The Honey process is currently popular in the majority of Central and Southern American countries, but contrary to popular belief honey isn’t used in the processing of the coffee or in the resulting coffee flavour profile.
The process gets its name from the sticky, honey-like feel the bean has before it is dried. Essentially once a coffee bean is separated from the cherry, it is left covered in a mucilage layer, this thick, gluey substance is produced by nearly all plants and plays a role in storing water, sugars, lipids and proteins, which are then released when the seed is germinated.
During the Honey Process, the skin and pulp surrounding the beans are removed, but some or all of the mucilage (Honey)* remains. After which the beans sorted and moved to drying beds for various periods of time. As the coffee beans are drying, the mucilage begins to oxidize and darken in colour. The sweet and sticky mucilage on the beans starts to darken into a golden yellow colour. Coffee at this stage is known as yellow honey process coffee. If the beans are allowed to dry further, the coffee continues to naturally ferment, and the mucilage continues to oxidize to a red and finally a black colour, resulting in red or black honey process coffee. Essentially the longer the beans are allowed to dry and the more mucilage on the beans the darker the resulting colour.
Because there is a little bit of fermentation happening in the short amount of time it takes for the mucilage to dry, coffees processed in this way feature a little more acidity than Natural Process or Washed Process coffees.
Honey processed coffees also tend to be more complex with inherently more sweetness than washed processed coffees but aren’t as fruity as the natural processed coffees. The quantity of mucilage left surrounding the beans also influences the body of the coffee after roasting, the more mucilage left on the bean yields a much fuller-bodied coffee.
Farrer’s Santa Maria Honey is a perfect example of a Honey processed coffee, delivering a delicious, balanced coffee with a subtle acidity with clean crisp flavour profile delivering sweet chocolate, citrus and red fruit flavour notes in each cup of coffee.