Natural, Honey, Washed? A primer on coffee processing:

Honey Coffee Drying on Table

You may have noticed that the labels on each of our coffees include a description of "process."  When we write “washed,” “honey,” or “natural,” we’re referring to the method used to transform fresh-picked coffee cherries into dry coffee beans ready for roasting. The way coffees are processed has a huge impact on how they taste- and learning which processes you prefer will help you consistently pick coffees you’ll like.

Natural or Dry Process:

Natural Process Coffee Drying on Table

Natural coffees use the oldest coffee processing technique: you just pick a bunch of coffee cherries, leave them in the sun to dry and crack the beans out of the dried fruit afterward. Natural process coffees can have bigger body, more fruitiness and smoother mouthfeel than their washed counterparts. These qualities we love about natural process coffees were once actually considered faults- and naturals still aren’t for everyone: some people taste funk instead of fruit, or dirtyness instead of body…

Modern natural processing has become more sophisticated in an effort to avoid the development of off-flavors in the cup. Coffee farmers pay close attention to controlling the length of time the cherries take to dry, humidity, airflow, temperature and other factors.

Washed Process:

Washed Coffee Parchment Drying on Table

Washed coffees are by far the most common in today’s market. In the washed process, coffee beans are squeezed out of the freshly-picked cherries, and then left submerged in water for anywhere from a few hours to a few days for the pulp, or mucilage, that surrounds the beans, to dissolve. (This process is sometimes referred to as fermentation. While there is limited metabolization of sugars that does take place, the major processes are enzymatic and bacterial fermentation that basically just cause the mucilage to dissolve in the water.) Then the coffee is dried either in the sun or by mechanical means. Coffee at this stage is called “parchment” because it still has an inner, khaki-colored shell that must be milled off before the coffee is ready for sale and roasting.

Washed coffees are brighter, have more focused and cleaner flavor profiles and lighter mouthfeel. Washed coffees don’t have the funk of their natural and honey counterparts- and people disagree over whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

Honey or Pulped Natural Process:

Honeyed Coffee Parchment Drying on Table

Honeyed coffees split the difference between washed and natural coffees. In the honey process, the beans are squeezed out of the fresh cherry like in the washed process, but then the goopy, mucilage-covered beans aren’t washed but rather left in the sun to ferment and dry. There are different degrees of honey process: people refer to Yellow, Red or Black honey. The colors relate to how dark the parchment coffee becomes as it dries, to how much mucilage is left on the beans and to how long the drying process takes. Black honeys retain 100% of their mucilage and undergo the longest drying time, while yellow honeys have both the shortest drying time and keep the least amount of mucilage, and reds fall somewhere in between.

The character of honeyed coffees falls somewhere between washed and natural coffees. At times a yellow honey might taste just like a washed coffee with perhaps a slightly heavier body. Other honeys have as much or more fruitiness than some naturals.

All three processes can create exceptional coffees- and we recommend that you make sure to try them all at some point as you continue to discover more about the world of coffee.

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