Washed, Natural, or Honey? The 3 main Methods of Coffee Processing Explained

Café lavé, naturel ou miel? Les 3 principales méthodes de traitement du café expliquées|Washed, Natural, or Honey? The 3 main Methods of Coffee Processing Explained

P rocessing methods are the diffrent ways to transform coffee cherries into green beans.

To better understand the differences between these processes, let's first take a look at the anatomy of a coffee cherry.

The processing methods differs in the number of layers removed before drying. They always include a fermentation time, a drying time and several sortings. The process chosen by the producer is of great importance when it comes to the quality and final characteristics of the final cup.

Here are the 3 principal methods used in the industry:

 

 

 

WASHED

 

Drying patios at San Miguel coffees, Antigua, Guatemala,
Credit: San Miguel Coffees

 


The washed or wet process is the most commonly used option for speciality coffee.


As soon as the coffee cherries are picked, the skin and some of the pulp are mechanically removed using a depulper. The beans are then placed in tanks (with or without water) in which the rest of the mucilage comes off during the fermentation. The duration of this stage can vary greatly (between 10 and 72 hours) depending on weather conditions and regional traditions. The coffee is then rinsed and dried on patios or raised beds.

 

 

NATURAL

Natural process on africain bed at the  Ana Sora,Guji washing station, Ethiopia.

 

The natural process is the oldest of all and only works well in a drier climate.

The cherries are picked at full maturity, washed and immediately spread on patios or drying beds where they are often stirred to ensure even drying. The bean remains inside the fruit, which ferments and dries for 3 to 4 weeks. When the process is carried out well, the result is a sweet cup with intense jam notes  and a syrupy texture. Since the fermentation is particularly difficult to control, the beans sometimes show unpleasant over-fermentation defects.

  

 

HONEY

Red Honey drying at the La Lia micro-mill, Tarrazu, Costa Rica.

 

Honey is a hybrid process that combines elements of the washed and natural process. It is especially popular in Costa Rica.

There are 4 different Honey levels: Black, Red, Yellow and White.

• In the white and yellow honey processes, the cherries are first depulped, then mechanically washed, leaving a very small amount of mucilage around the bean.

• In the red and black honey processes, the cherries are lightly depulped as much mecilage as possible. 

From this stage, the coffee is left to dry and the final result depends on the temperature and the humidity level. In drier weather, the coffee will dry more quickly and remain fairly pale. On cloudy days, the coffee will be subjected to more moisture and shade, which will slow down the drying and cause sugars to oxidize, which results in a darker mucilage. It is also common to cover the drying beds to produce black honey.

The result of this process is a particularly sweet and balanced cup. In other parts of the world, this process is called "pulped natural."

 

Coffee processing rarely makes it outside of coffee geek discussions, but it is an integral part of crafting the character of your cup of coffee along with many other factors. So the next time you pick up a Costa Rican honey or a washed Nicaraguan, you’ll have a better understanding of where their delicious flavours come from.