Coffee processing is how farmers and producers turn viable seeds into coffee beans for roasting. The processing of the seed stops it from sprouting and fuses every ounce of flavor into the beans after the ripe coffee cherries are picked from the tree. There are three main ways coffee has been normally processed over the years: washed, natural and honey or semi washed.
At Big House Beans we try to source different coffees from every part of the flavor spectrum. The way a specific lot of green coffee is processed has a big influence in its flavor profile. Washed coffee is typically going to have cleaner notes, it focuses solely on the bean, letting you taste what is inside and not outside, the cherry. At the moment of letting the coffee seeds dry, the skin and mucilage have been completely removed. The flavor depends only on the sugars and nutrients the coffee embryo(seed) has absorbed during its development cycle. Most all specialty grade single origin coffee is washed processed since it truly highlights the original country characteristics and the environmental conditions of the bean.
The dry process or "Natural" process is the old school method to coffee production. It dates back to the original discovery of coffee in Ethiopia and its as basic as it can be. Although, with the recent increase in quality demand, natural process has become a rigorous practice of coffee processing. The fruit of the cherry is left on the bean, and there’s little disruption to the coffee while it dries. A constant check on temperature and moisture is required during the process to avoid the over ripening of the sugars left on seed from the fruit. Therefore this method can produce inconsistent flavors in the cup, but can also resolute in the highlight of very complex and delightful fruit forward notes. Truth be told, its a hit or miss and sourcing coffee with this kind of process is as meticulous as its production. On a side note, Natural process is the most eco-friendly method because of it's low use of water.
Honey, semi-washed, and pulp natural, all the same. Many south american producing countries have adopted this process. Honey processes can literally give honey and caramelized brown sugar notes to your cup. The name actually originates from how sticky the beans turn during processing. This last process is most often a half way between the washed and natural processes. Part of the sking and mucilage is removed from the embryos and let to dry. Depending on how much fruit is left on it there are variants to the name the lot of green coffee receives. Yellow, red, golden, black and white honey are just a few examples of the different degrees this process can change and each one will affect the notes in different ways. Generally, it will develop a more rounded acidity than washed coffees and intense sweetness and complex mouthfeel.
The way coffee is processed is rarely entertained in discussions. It is a somewhat difficult part of the overall coffee production to understand. Because of its environmental and cultural variables, and not to forget the scientific part, it can be challenging to explain its crucial part in the flavor of coffee. Nonetheless it is important to know it and use that knowledge to select tasty coffee.
Check out our different single origin offerings and adventure to try new processes when they are available!