Dear, dry, washed, with natural pulp? Do you ever look at your coffee packaging and wonder what that means? Or, perhaps, more importantly, which one best suits your taste?
The 3 Main Types Of Coffee Processing
There are three predominant ways of traditional coffee processing: washed, natural, and honey. There are alternatives, but they are both rare and usually localized, such as wet peeling in Indonesia.
Washed coffee focuses exclusively on the bean. I allow you to taste what is inside, not outside. You see, a natural or processed coffee with honey requires that the coffee cherries around the beans be flavored. However, washed coffee depends almost 100% on the beans that have absorbed enough natural sugars and nutrients during its growth cycle. This means that soil, variety, ripening, weather, washing, fermentation, and drying are absolutely essential.
Washed coffee reflects both the fact that farmers are an integral part of crafting the taste of a coffee bean and the science of growing the perfect coffee bean. When we look at washed coffee, it becomes obvious that the environmental conditions and the country of origin play a vital role in adding flavors. This means that the washed process is able to highlight the true nature of a bean with a single origin like no other process and this is why so many specialty coffees are washed. As the Holly of North Star Roasters puts it, "washed Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees are fantastic examples of the clarity of flavor that can be discouraged if the coffee is processed correctly."
Natural/Dry Processed Coffee
The natural process, also known as the dry process, is an approach based on returning to the basics that come from Ethiopia. The fruit is left on the bean, and the coffee has few disturbances as it dries. Although it requires less investment, it still requires certain climatic conditions to ensure the timely drying of fruits and seeds.
The natural process has become considered a lower quality method, which can lead to inconsistent flavors. This inconsistency is often the result of unripe fruit drying and browning with ripe fruit.
However, there are many who believe that this process actually has the potential to create the most delicious coffees - and that a comeback is just around the corner. If consistency can be achieved, then many argue that natural coffees can match washed coffees for clarity and also offer some more interesting notes and features. You can see this happening in Brazil, among other places.
Ben of Gold Mountain Coffee Growers told me that a beautifully harvested and processed natural coffee can produce incredible cutting notes and give consumers amazing sweet flavors - “Some of our natures end up tasting more like a tropical fruit salad or a fruit compote than coffee. "
Honey/Pulped Natural Coffee
When finished correctly, coffee processed with honey can literally taste like someone putting honey and brown sugar in your cup of coffee - although the name actually comes from how sticky the beans become during processing. This type of coffee is halfway between a washed coffee and natural coffee. It is fruity, but not as exaggerated as natural coffee. It often has a more rounded acidity than washed coffee, with a complex mouthfeel and intense sweetness.
The honey process is strongly associated with Costa Rica and subcategories have developed yellow, red, gold, black, and white. This reflects the ability of this process to influence the overall taste and profile of a coffee. It can become an extremely scientific process because the level of mucilage - which influences the sweetness and depth of the coffee body - is monitored and controlled. Usually, the longer the mucilage remains on the grain, the sweeter the taste.
How Do Producers Decide What Process To Use?
Most coffee growers want to produce the most profitable coffee and therefore the best taste, but they may be limited by the environment. Coffee, more than most foods, has a very close connection with the environment.
Producers will often wait to see how much rain has fallen before deciding whether to produce washed, honey, or natural coffee. If it has rained a lot, it is more difficult to produce a good natural process, because coffee cherries can start to split. If it has not rained, the conditions are excellent for the honey process or the natural process, because no sugars will be washed away.