When reading a label on a coffee bag, you may have come across words like “process” or “ washed,” “honey,” “natural,” “anaerobic,” etc. If you’ve ever wondered what those mean, you’re in the right place!
As a coffee roaster from a family of coffee producers in Honduras, we have a deep appreciation for the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating and enhancing the unique flavor profiles in coffee.
How a coffee is processed impacts the flavor profile. The same coffee processed in different ways can actually result in two very different tasting coffees.
The main methods used are washed, honey, and natural, which we’ll dive deeper into below. We’ll also briefly touch on some experimental processes that are new or not as common.
But first, what is a coffee “process” or “processing method”? The process/processing method refers to the method by which the coffee fruit is removed from the seed (bean). There multiple ways to removed the fruit from the inner seed but there are 3 main types:
1) Washed Processing Method
“Washed process” involves removing the fruit from the coffee bean before drying. After the coffee cherries are harvested, the outer layer is removed using a machine or by hand. The beans are then soaked in water for up to 48 hours, thereby removing any remaining fruit or mucilage. Finally, the beans are then dried, either in the sun or using drying machines. This process typically results in a clean, bright coffee with a crisp acidity and distinct natural flavors.
2) Honey Processing Method
“Honey process” is a step in between the washed and natural processes. After harvesting, the outer layer of the coffee cherry is removed, leaving some of the fruit or mucilage still on the bean. The beans are then dried with the remaining fruit/mucilage still intact. This process typically results in a coffee with a medium body and sweetness, as well as some fruit and floral notes.
3) Natural Processing Method
“Natural process” has made a recent resurgence and is actually the oldest coffee processing method. After harvesting, the full coffee cherries are left to dry in the sun, with the fruit still intact. The fruit is removed once the beans are fully dried, which can take up to four weeks. This process typically results in a coffee with a heavy body, low acidity, and intense fruit flavors.
Some experimental processes that producers are exploring, typically in small quantities:
- Carbonic Maceration: This process involves fermenting the coffee cherries in a low-oxygen environment, resulting in a coffee with fruity and floral notes.
- Anaerobic Fermentation: This process involves fermenting the coffee cherries in a sealed container, creating a unique flavor profile.
- Yeast Fermentation: This process involves adding specific strains of yeast to the coffee cherries during fermentation, resulting in a coffee with unique flavors and aromas.
Whether you prefer a clean, bright coffee from the washed process or a heavy, fruity coffee from the natural process, there is a coffee out there for everyone.