Natural? Washed? Honey? Huh?
This is Part Four in a series about the information on your coffee bag and what the heck it all means.
Process (Washed, Natural, Honey, Wet, Dry)
Process is a term that describes what happens to the coffee cherry after it is picked to produce the raw, green coffee bean. The most common types of processing are Washed (also known as wet) and Natural (also known as Dry). Honey process and pulped natural are terms used to describe different hybrids of washed and natural processes.
The coffee cherry consists of a coffee seed (the bean) surrounded by a protective layer of parchment, fruit flesh, and skin. Processing involves removing the fruit and skin and protective parchment, as well as drying the coffee to a moisture level amenable to bagging and shipping. Drying is typically done in the sun, although mechanical dryers may be used in some circumstances. The ordering of these steps varies based on the processing method.
In washed processing, all the flesh and skin is removed from bean before it dries. This is done by removing the majority of the skin and fruit flesh by mechanical methods, then submerging the partially stripped beans in water for a period of time. While in the water, the remaining flesh ferments and separates from the bean. After this fermentation is complete, the coffee beans are washed to remove any remaining fruity bits, then dried. Before bagging, dried beans are hulled to remove the protective parchment layer.
In natural processing, beans are dried with the flesh and skin still attached. Care must be taken to avoid molding, rotting, and excessive fermentation. After drying, the dried fruit, skin, and parchment layer are removed by mechanical methods.
Honey processing is a blend of the methods, where a specific percentage of the flesh and skin is removed. The beans are sun-dried and mechanically processed to remove any remaining fruit and parchment. Another term that denotes a blend of washed and natural processing is Pulped Natural process.
Processing can be a deliberate choice on the part of the producer, such as the semi-washed method used in Indonesia, or one borne out of necessity. For example, natural process may be the only form of processing available if access to water is limited or completely unavailable. Washed processing can be cost-prohibitive for small farmers
The method of processing and how it was carried out influence the taste of coffee, sometimes greatly. At every step of processing, numerous things can go wrong - or right - and influence what you taste in the cup. However, the particulars about how your beans were processed - other than the method identifier - is largely unknowable. Despite this, you can generally expect the following based on process:
- High-quality naturals will showcase a complexity from funky and fruity flavors.
- Hybrid processing methods will usually result in greater sweetness.
- Washed coffees tend to have higher acidity and less off-flavors.
For an in-depth discussion of honey processes and multiple variations, check out this blog post by Moustache Coffee.
Process at a glance
What it is: Process describes what happens to the coffee fruit after it is picked to produce a green coffee bean
Why you might care: The method of processing can create and accentuate flavors. In general, natural or dry processed coffees tend to have a fruity, fermented flavor when compared to washed or wet processed beans. Many prefer washed coffees because they showcase the flavor of the coffee seed.
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