If you’ve ever purchased a bag of our coffee, you’ve probably seen information on the label about its processing method. Perhaps your favorite barista opined about the “best black honey Costa Rica” she had ever tasted. The terminology can be confusing, even for coffee nerds.
Taste It: There’s no better way to learn about processing than to get your tasting spoon dirty and compare differently processed coffees side-by-side. That’s exactly what we’ll be doing Saturday, June 25th, 2pm at the roastery. Check out the facebook event pagehere. We’ll have three coffees, all grown on the same farm, processed three different ways (washed, red honey & yellow honey). It’s a rare treat to be able to isolate so many variables and hone in on a single factor all by itself, so don’t miss it.
So what is processing? Simply put, it’s the way that the seed of the coffee fruit (what is commonly refereed to as the “bean”, is removed from its fleshy pulp and gooey layer of mucilage underneath. There are three primary ways of doing this:
The washed coffee process immediately removes the fruit from the seed with a mechanical de-pulper and then places the seeds in wet, open air tanks to remove the remaining mucilage layer via fermentation. The mucilage is very high in sugar, so wild yeast and other microbial life from the environment quickly go to work eating away at it, leaving only the seed and it’s hard outer casing, called “parchment”, intact. The coffee is then dried on patios, raised beds or in mechanical driers to lower the moisture content. After the coffee is fully dried, the parchment, the final layer surrounding the seed, is stripped mechanically.
Though they do undergo fermentation, washed coffees are typically low in fruity fermentation flavors. Washed is the most common processing method for specialty coffee in Central America (Costa Rica, Guatemala, etc.) and East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda). Our Yirgacheffe Kochere is a particularly exceptional example of this method.
Honey/Pulped Natural/Semi Washed
Honey coffees and all of their variations (white honey, black honey, red honey, etc.) are mechanically de-pulped, but the mucilage layer underneath is left remaining. The coffee is dried with the mucilage still intact or mostly intact, resulting in a very different fermentation process. The name “honey process” comes from the sweet smell and taste of the mucilage. Different colors of honey are achieved by leaving more mucilage (black honey) or less mucilage (white/yellow honey) on the coffee before putting it out to dry.
Honey processed coffees have more fruit influence than their washed counterparts. The pulped natural process was pioneered in Brazil, where the vast majority of specialty coffee exports are still processed this way. The name “honey” came into popularity as the method spread to Central America, where farmers called the mucilage “miel” (honey in spanish).
Natural processing, the oldest method, leaves the full coffee fruit intact when it is dried. The fruit dehydrates, shrivels and darkens in the hot sun (or, less ideally, a mechanical dryer) and then can be easily removed from the seed underneath with a little friction. The coffee ferments with the full fruit as fuel.
This method imparts a strong influence of fruit to the coffee and good examples of natural processing can have tasting notes of blueberry, strawberry, peach and more. Natural processing is the least resource intensive of all of the processing methods, as less water and specialized equipment are required. The process is used across practically every coffee growing region, but it is most characteristic of Ethiopian coffees, like our Sidama Ardi.
The way in which a coffee is processed is extremely influential to the resulting flavor profile. Try tasting all three methods on coffees from similar regions to experience the effects of each and determine what you love the most.