Vietnam is considered to be one of the world’s leaders in coffee production having around 500,000 hectares that bring thousands of tons of high-quality coffee beans. The vast majority of coffee in Vietnam comes from the robusta species, a hardy plant that can grow on lower elevations. Among the 3 standard modern methods for coffee processing, honey processing has started to gain the spotlight to differentiate high quality coffee beans. In this essential guide to Vietnam Honey Robusta, we will walk you through the techniques used in making honey processed coffees in Vietnam.
1. What is the difference between dried, washed and honey processed coffees?
The world’s most popular coffee processing methods are: wet (or washed) process, dried (or natural, unwashed) process, and honey (or pulped natural) process. The most popular processing technique in Vietnam is the natural dry method after harvesting. According to this method, the coffee is dried under sunlight and then removed from the husk or fruit.
On the other hand, the washed processing method removes all of the mesocarp (also known as mucilage) layer from the outside of the coffee bean before allowing it to dry.
Hybrids between the washing and unwashing exist, which is the honey or natural pulped process. The honey coffee process is the hardest coffee processing method, which bridges the gap between washed and natural coffees. The coffee cherry is pulped and then dried with the mucilage layer on the parchment. Similarly to the washed process, honey beans are separated from the majority of the cherry before being fermented and dried. Similarly to the natural process, honey beans still get to spend some time with the sweet, sticky mucilage layer before being hulled.
2. How is Vietnam Honey Robusta Coffee made?
Honey processing of Vietnam Honey Coffee is a long, dedicated, and labor-intensive process. Below are 6 steps that are involved with honey processing in Vietnam.
1. Pick only ripe coffee cherries
Farmers start by picking only the ripest cherries from the trees, which contain a high amount of sugar and acids that are important for the fermenting process afterwards.
2. Sort defects
They are then sorted by density and color to separate the perfectly ripe cherries from the under and over ripe. Flotation of cherries could be conducted to separate the floaters from the sinkers. Floater berries that have defects are discarded.
The beans are then pulped from their outer skin. All sinkers are subjected to pulping. What results is a wet-parchment bean―or a coffee bean covered with mucilage. This mucilage layer contains a high amount of sugar and acids which is the key of the honey process. In the other methods, it would be washed or hulled away, but not this one.
The coffee beans, still sticky (like honey) with mucilage, are stored to ferment for 1-3 days.
This drying phase is the most intricate and sensitive part of the process.This wet-parchment bean is then laid out on elevated beds for drying. The beans need to be dried at exactly the right pace. If they are dried too quickly, the flavors from the mucilage won’t be absorbed by the green coffee beans. If the beans are dried too slowly there is a chance of over-fermentation where the beans might become mouldy. The drying time for honey processing can last anywhere from 4 days to 8 weeks or more. The target moisture content to be attained is 12% to 14% MC, which is the allowable moisture for dry parchment coffee beans for storage or milling.
The next process is hulling or milling to remove the hull or parchment covering the coffee bean. After that, the beans could be followed by polishing to remove the silver skin, the final covering of the coffee bean, which is an optional step.
The mucilage layer – Photo by Stanislaw Szydlo
3. What does Vietnam Honey Robusta Coffee taste like?
As the honey process is the combination of washed and natural process, honey Robusta coffee beans attempt to combine the best flavor attributes from both methods into one. Washed coffee has the advantage of avoiding the off flavors (such as fermentation, or worse, rotting) that can develop in natural processed coffees due to poor handling, whereas natural coffee has the advantage of containing more of the coffee fruit’s flavors into the coffee bean. The result of the honey process is usually a coffee with fine elegant attributes associated with the pure washed coffee coupled up with the body sweetness of the natural coffee.
When tasting a honey processed coffee, you always notice a distinct sweetness to it. This is largely due to the amount of time the beans get to spend with the mucilage. Those caramelized sugars seep in during the fermentation and drying process. It will result in a coffee brew with an exciting taste that has good clarity and a mellow acidity like washed coffees, also a heavy-bodied and sweet flavor like natural coffees.
High quality honey processed Robusta coffee beans from Vietnam. Source: Viego Global Team
4. Where to buy honey Robusta in Vietnam?
As a giant in the coffee industry, Vietnam has long been dominated by Robusta, which makes up more than 96% of the coffee crops. For its export sales, and its vibrant local coffee culture, Vietnam has established a good reputation as a source of mass commercial Robusta coffee. However these days, the growth of specialty coffee industry combined with low prices for commercial robusta coffee has encouraged Vietnamese coffee farmers to grow and process higher quality Robusta coffee, especially the honey processed coffee.
Main Robusta coffee growing provinces are located in the Central Highlands, including Dak Lak, Lam Dong, Dak Nong, Gia Lai and Kon Tum. This area has many legends about coffee such as the Buon Ma Thuot brand. There are some geographic indications of the coffee regions (‘Buon Ma Thuot’, ‘Cau Dat – Da Lat’ and ‘Son La’) known for their quality, sweet aroma and strong flavor resulting from the soil characteristics. It is not difficult to find farms and factories that use honey mothed to process their coffee beans. However, to have access to an authentic and high quality source of honey Robusta coffee, you will need to spend some quality time on researching the suppliers and walking through Vietnam’s coffee market. It’s worth reading through our blog on “How to find Wholesale Coffee Suppliers in Vietnam”.
Viego Global – Your trusted sourcing partner in Vietnam
At Viego Global, we know it’s more than just finding the right coffee supplier since every step of the supply chain requires proper implementation in order to ensure Vietnam quality coffee beans are well delivered to clients. We always try our best to determine the best suppliers, including coffee farms and coffee collectors based on customers’ needs. During research on potential suppliers, discussion and factory visits, we inspect every single thing from business license, capacity, to past orders as well as the equipment and the workers’ competence. This is why Viego Global makes sure that you can reach the best coffee suppliers at the most competitive price from Vietnam.
In order to provide a deeper insight on Vietnam’s Coffee Market, we’ve created this series along with tips on how to select the best beans from Vietnam for your business. Jump to: