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Hybrid Processes

Hybrid processes are basically a combination of natural and wet processing though the exact methodology varies per region. This combination will bring together the economic benefits of the natural process with the speed of the wet process. For the coffee cup the hybrid process results in a better body than for washed coffees but cleaner character than for dry processing.

There are two main methodologies that fall under hybrid process: the pulped natural or honey (miel) process and the semi-washed/wet-hulled process. The first is mostly used in Latin America and the latter in Indonesia.

The pulped natural or honey (miel) process

This method was developed in Brazil under the name pulped natural and it is used extensively in Central America where it is known as the honey or miel process (miel means honey in Spanish). In Brazil the idea was born to produce coffees with high cup quality using less water than used in the wet process.

The process starts in the same way as the wet processing: after picking, the coffee is mechanically depulped to strip it from the outer skin and the pulp.  Equal to the wet process the mucilage remains attach to the coffee beans.  From this point the process changes: instead of going to fermentation tanks as in the wet process, the coffee beans go straight to drying patios or drying beds. With less pulp surrounding the beans the risk of defects seems smaller than in the naturally dried coffee, however the mucilage is moist and sticky which makes a perfect setting for rot and decay. Hene, lots of attention must be paid during the drying period that can take up to two weeks. The beans must be gently moved every certain time, sometimes even every hour. With the mucilage still covering the seeds there is still enough sugar left around to increase the body and sweetness in the coffee beans.

Depulping machines can be controlled to leave a specific percentage of pulp on the beans. According to this percentage the resulting coffee is referred to as one hundred percent honey or “Black honey”, a “red honey” has a lower amount of mucilage and “yellow honey” implies nearly all of it is removed. During the drying period the mucilage turns darker there fore the names used to the different percentages of mucilage remaining come from the  color of the beans while drying. It is easy to understand looking at the pictures below.

Black honey (varietal Venecia) at Finca Naval, Costa Rica
Red honey (front) and yellow honey (back) at Finca Naval, Costa Rica
Yellow honey at Finca Mate, Honduras

The black honeys have a higher concentration of sugar. They should receive less light and dry slower than other processes. The yellow honey has the lower concentration of sugar thus it is easier to handle but it receives more light and will dry faster.

In combination with depulpers, nowadays mechanical demucilagers can help to strip the mucilage through the use of rough bristles or the use of water pressure.

The flavour profile of honey processed coffee: plenty of acidity that is perceived as being more gentle due to more sweetness in the coffees, a syrupy sweet body and a wide span of flavour characteristics.

Yellow honey at Cafe Directo. Costa Rica

The semi-washed/wet-hulled process

This process is common in Indonesia and results in very distincti flavours. After picking, the coffee is depulped and then briefly dried to a moisture content of 30-35 percent (instead of the usual 11-12 per cent). The coffee is then hulled, removing the parchment and completely exposing the coffee bean as when it is ready to be roasted. The naked beans are then dried again to low moisture content. This second drying gives the beans a deep swamp-green colour. Semi-washed coffees have a lower acidy and more body than other coffees but they also develop flavours that for many of us are rather unpleasant such as wood, tobacco or leather.

Go for it!

If you have the chance to taste a honey processed coffee go for it, it would not disappoint you especially if it comes from Central America, where they have embraced and perfected the process. My suggestion, try our yellow honey (red Catuai) from Cerro de Jesus, Nicaragua 😉

Big thanks to Armando Navarro, Gerardo Arias, Mixael Lemus and Ever Alvarado for the photos of honey process in their farms.

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