Mark Swanson, president of Stauf's Coffee Roasters, recently traveled to Costa Rica and Honduras to examine and procure honey-processed beans firsthand.

Mark Swanson, president of Stauf's Coffee Roasters, recently traveled to Costa Rica and Honduras to examine and procure honey-processed beans firsthand.

First things first:There's no honey in honey-processed coffee.

Honey processing is a method for treating coffee beans that's a balance between dry or natural processing, where all the layers surrounding the coffee bean-the fruity pulp and the thin membranes called mucilage, parchment and silver skin-are dried together, and wet or washed processing, where nearly all of these layers are removed from the bean before it's dried.

The honey process falls between the two. The pulp is removedbut the other layers, from the mucilage on down, are left around the bean. Those wet and sticky layers surrounding the bean are called the honey.

Mark Swanson, president of Stauf's Coffee Roasters, recently traveled to Costa Rica and Honduras to examine and procure honey-processed beans firsthand. "When you pick this stuff up it's like caramel corn," he says, "and when you smell it, it's sweet. I was really surprised at how sweet the coffees were, although they tend to mellow out in the cup."

The tackiness poses challenges to the process. "It's super difficult because the coffee is so sticky," says Brandon Bir, sourcing and education manager for Crimson Cup. "The thing is that you can't just put out coffee and let it dry. " The beans are usually laid on raised beds and raked repeatedly while they dry over the course of one to three weeks. The trick is allowing a little bit of fermentation without letting the beans rot.

There are also different degrees of honey processing, ranging in color designations from white to black. White honey, says Swanson, means nearly 80 to 90 percent of the mucilage is removed. It's most similar to the traditional wet process, and produces the lightest flavor profile of honey-processed beans. Yellow honey leaves a little more of the mucilage intact, thus producing a slightly deeper color. Red honey leaves a majority of the mucilage, so the beans turn a reddish hue as they dry. Black is the rarest of the honey processes; the cherry is often left to ripen on the tree before it's dried. The mucilage is left in close contact with the bean for longer, which turns it black.

Despite the higher maintenance required, honey-processed coffee is attractive to roasters for the new flavor profiles it introduces. Jason Valentine, the roaster behind Thunderkiss Coffee says: "It was one of the first coffees I roasted where I was wowed. It has a balance of acidity and sweetness I didn't have from other coffees." Valentine says the honey-processed beans are also easily adaptable to different preparations, from espresso to pour-overs to drip coffee.

Swanson says these latest developments in honey processing highlight the constant experimentation in the coffee business: "Wet process used to be the gold standard, but all bets are truly off in coffee. People are doing some great and crazy things. It keeps me on my toes."