Processing methods of coffee and how they affect the final cup
After the coffee cherry is harvested it needs to be processed in order to remove the seed which we know as the coffee bean (green coffee/raw). The big three are washed, natural and honey processed. The lesser known wet hulled sneaks in for some attention in certain regions. Then it gets a little crazy with anaerobic fermentation and carbonic maceration and a few other experimental processing methods. All of these methods add or remove a certain amount of sugars which can leave the coffee tasting wildly different. Think of it as taking one steak and splitting into 3 pieces. One with zero seasoning, one adding a little seasoning and then one piece adding lots of seasonings. Same cut of meat yet all 3 pieces taste completely different.
Washed processed coffees are harvested, sorted, depulped either by hand or mechanically to remove the cherry skin and then sent into a washing station. These washing stations can be as simple as a giant vat that is stirred by hand with clean water or as complex as an automatic agitation machine that uses water friction to remove the pulp and rinse the raw coffee bean clean. After the raw coffee is cleaned they are sent to dry either on large raised beds for sun drying or laid onto large decks to dry in the sun. Washed process coffees are typically a more acidic coffee with a bright pallet and light body. Our washed Ethiopia is tea like with notes of citrus and is perfectly brewed as a pour over for our bright coffee fans.
For those of you who prefer the sweeter, fruitier notes of a coffee we suggest a natural process. The natural process has less steps after harvest yet results in a more complex cup. The entire coffee cherry is sorted and dried with the seed inside. The coffee skin or mucilage is left to ferment on the seed while the bean dries on large beds in the sun. The sugars absorb into the seed until it is time to send them to the machine and have the pulp removed. This method is preferable to most farmers especially in Africa where water is scarce. Our Certified Organic Ethiopia Natural Process and our Certified Organic & Fair Trade Ethiopia Washed Process is a fun experience tasting them side by side. The natural process is fruity and sweet with lots of berries and sugar cane. While our washed process is light and bright with bold citrus and black tea notes. We offer both of these processing methods year round so our community can enjoy both sides of the pallet scale.
Briefly mentioning wet hulled process-is a combination of both washed and natural. Often referred to as semi-washed. Like the washed process after the cherries are sorted and depulped unlike going straight to the drying beds they are stored in tanks. At this stage the mucilage that is left on seed retains moisture while it begins to dry in the tanks. This process is typically found in more humid areas such as Indonesia. This method can be found with our Sumatra and creates a full body cup with savory tasting notes due to the dense, moisture rich bean.
That brings us to the honey process. No, that doesn’t mean the farmers pour honey on the beans nor does the roaster. It actually refers to the color of the bean after processing, a rich honey color which can vary from gold to red to black. Honey process coffee is depulped but sent straight to the drying beds, rather than washing all the mucilage off. Some of the cherry and mucilage remains but not nearly as much as in the natural process. Honey processed coffees are much sweeter than natural process coffees with a pleasant acidity similar to washed process coffees.
Being knowledgeable about processing methods really helps when you are choosing the flavor profile you seek. If you prefer light and bright, the washed process might be for you. If sweet and fruity is the best in your cup, natural or honey may be the way. We clearly label all of our processing methods on our bags and we love when we roast small batches of experimental processing. We have won a few awards with some complex processing methods. Test yourself and see if you can sort it all out in the wash.