Yellow, red, and black honeys all refer to the same style of processing. Following a wet process where the coffee’s skin is removed by a de-pulper, the coffee is then immediately set out to dry with the mucilage intact, without undergoing any fermentation. As the seeds dry, the sticky mucilage loses more of its moisture. The idea is that instead of fermentation where enzymes eat the sugar, the sugars can instead be absorbed into the seed.
Once dried, the seeds are either washed to remove the attached mucilage or sent directly to be de-hulled. After this step, the coffee can be dried again, to reach the target moisture content. This process usually takes longer than the washed process, and requires attentive care like the natural process.
The colour refers to the amount of mucilage kept on the fruit. White honeys are almost fully washed with just a small amount of mucilage for the dry fermentation. Black honeys, on the other hand, are almost fully natural, but with more restraint and clarity than a full natural. Yellow, orange, and red honeys are terms used to describe honey processed coffees that land somewhere between white and black.
When done correctly, honey processing can bring about amazing balance, bringing the high sweetness and richness of natural processing together with the clarity and complexity of washed processing.
Honey processed coffee beans at Finca Himalaya, El Salvador