This is the third article on a series about the various processes used to get coffee from the picked cherries to the “green” or unroasted form that coffee roasters buy. I suggest you start with the first article on washed coffee and then proceed to the one on dry or natural process coffee. Not surprisingly, there is a third style of coffee processing that uses elements of both of these other processes. It’s commonly referred to as “honey process” or “pulped natural” coffee.
As with washed coffee, honey processing also separates the cherry from the seeds (what we call coffee “beans”) in the first step of the process, which is called pulping. Whereas washed coffees continue to be processed to remove the mucilage that still clings to the seeds, these coffees are then dried in the sun, skipping the fermentation and washing stages that washed coffees would receive.
This drying stage has to be done in the sun because mechanical equipment would be destroyed by the sticky mucilage that would cling to everything. Great care must be taken to lay the sticky, pulped coffee on patios or drying racks in thin, even layers or it can easily rot. Here is a video showing a producer in Panama spreading out his coffee on a drying rack and explaining why he does honey processing of the coffee:
In addition to evenly spreading the seeds in the sun, the coffee has to be raked or rotated frequently so drying is even and complete. As with natural process coffee, the drying mucilage layer will create chemicals that are absorbed by the coffee beans and those flavors may come out in the cup.
Natural pulped coffees have similar fruity flavors and sweetness to natural processed coffees.