Washed? Natural? Honey? WTF? We’re talking coffee processing, people. Coffee cherries from the same plant will produce very different flavours depending on how the beans are processed after they’ve been picked. And that’s even before they’re roasted
Here’s the low-down on coffee processing …
The natural process involves drying the coffee cherries (with the fruit still intact) in the sun on a raised bed, allowing the sugars in the fruit to transfer into the bean. This process produces more jammy flavours with juicy fruits and a creamy body. Natural coffees require more gentle treatment when roasting to ensure the sugars caramelise into a pleasantly sweet profile.
In the case of washed beans, the cherry pulp is removed mechanically before the green beans are fermented, washed to remove all the remaining fruit, and dried. After roasting, washed beans tend to produce a cup with a more delicate and refined profile, often with bright citrus and floral notes.
Honey processing is less common and sort of sits in the middle of the two: the outer skins of the cherries are removed, but the green beans are not washed; they’re simply allowed to dry in the sun with the pulp still on. When dry, the beans are removed from the pulp. This tends to provide the sweetness and creamy body of a natural with some of the acidity that washed beans bring to the party.
Which is best? None – it’s simply a matter of individual taste and what the farmer is trying to create, which only goes to make the world of flavours to be found in coffees all the more complex and interesting.
Keen to learn more about speciality coffee? Find lots of features here.