You have probably seen the terms ‘washed’, ‘honey’, and ‘natural’ in our coffee descriptions, yet we thought a more in-depth explanation would make it a little more meaningful - and take your coffee connoisseur game to a whole new level!
First, some context on ‘Coffee Processing’ - this is the crucial step that transforms coffee cherries into “green coffee” that’s ready to be exported/imported/roasted! ALL coffees - yes, ALL coffees - must be processed before we can roast them! Otherwise, we would be trying to roast a ‘coffee fruit’, not a ‘coffee bean’ (technically, a coffee seed). Specifically, we need to remove three main layers (from the outside in) to get to our precious seeds: (1) pulp or exocarp, (2) mucilage or mesocarp (a sticky layer high in sugars), and (3) parchment (a papery layer protecting the seed).
There are three main processes worldwide : (1) Washed or Wet Process, (2) Honey (and variations), and (3) Natural or Dry Process. And it is when the layers are removed that makes all the difference!
Washed coffees get the first two layers, pulp and mucilage, removed as soon as possible after harvest. This is achieved by mechanically de-pulping and throughly ‘washing’ the coffee beans, and leaving only the parchment layer during the drying process (which can be under the sun, using mechanical dryers, or a combination of those two). Once beans are dried to ~12% moisture, they’re milled to remove the parchment layer and packed in 60-70 kg bags for export. This is the most popular method for Specialty coffees, as it yields incredibly clean, consistent, well-balanced cups. The highest scoring coffees worldwide are typically washed.
Honey coffees are characterized by the partial removal of the first two layers (pulp and mucilage), always leaving some pulp and mucilage around the seed to ‘ferment’ during the drying process. Depending on the amount of pulp/mucilage left, you may have a ‘Yellow Honey’ (no pulp, little mucilage, short fermentation, closer to a Washed), a ‘Red Honey’ (some pulp, most mucilage, medium fermentation), or a ‘Black Honey’ (most pulp and mucilage, long fermentation). ‘Honeys’ are very labor intensive, as they require constant monitoring and care during the weeks-long fermentation/drying under the sun. They’re also risky, as the whole harvest could be lost in an uncontrolled fermentation (i.e. yielding rotten, alcoholic, or medicinal notes). Yet, they can also yield amazing, sweet, complex, unique fruit flavors!
Natural coffees are dried with all layers! This means they’re dried as a fruit, under the sun or a combination of sun drying with mechanical dryers. Dried fruits are then ‘milled’ to remove all three layers (pulp, mucilage, and parchment) and coffee is packed for export. This is the most common method for Brazilian coffees, yet, it’s worldwide popularity has risen in recent years. It leads to sweeter, fruitier, and more full-bodied cups (vs. Washed), yet, as in the Honey process, there’s always the risk of an uncontrolled fermentation due to the high sugar content during drying.
We have excellent examples of all 3 processes currently online: try Poaquil or Kenya AA vs. Los Pinos (yellow honey) vs. Red Honey vs. Yirgacheffe, for example! We’re also working on some exciting new additions on this front with our ‘Poaquil’ partners! (we’ve been secretly experimenting for the past 2 years to bring something really unique to you… hopefully in just a few months!)
I hope this was insightful… and left you a little inspired to try something new!
Always incredibly grateful to get to roast for you, and Brew Greatness in the world with you,
PS. We’re so excited about our Guatemala trip next year!!! We have a few spots before we hit our maximum number of people for the trip (which we would love to do, as we probably won’t do another one for a while!). The penalty-free deadline has been extended to 7/24… if you feel called, join us!