This post looks at three dominant specialty coffee processing methods. Natural, honey and washed process. As a brief overview, natural is when the coffee is dried within the fruit, honey is when the skin is removed and the coffee bean is dried within its mucilage; while washed is where the coffee fruit is de-pulped, fermented, washed and dried (in general).
Natural process involves picking ripe cherries and drying them within the whole fruit. Specifically, the cherries dry on the coffee beds for 12- 15 days (depending on weather and temperature).
Because natural processed coffees require workers to manually inspect and account for defects.There is margin for error.
When the coffee cherries reach an optimum moisture level of 9.5-11.5 they are then transported to a dry mill, milled and hand pickers remove defects and other unwanted materials. Afterwards, they are packed into jutes and made ready for export.
In a general sense honey processing is where the skin of a coffee cherry is removed (de-pulping machine) and the mucilage/flesh stays on.
The name ‘honey’ comes from the honey like mucilage that remains on the coffee beans during the drying process.
Depending on the amount of mucilage that remains on the coffee cherry, it is named accordingly
- White – 100% mucilage is removed and then dried
- Yellow – 75% mucilage is removed and then dried (you get the picture)
- Red – 25%
- Black – 0%
Think of a red blood plum as a coffee cherry. The outer skin is removed and the mucilage/flesh remains and is processed. Depending on how much the flesh is removed, this determines how the coffee will be named. Ie. Yellow honey, red honey, black honey, white honey.
For specific details, Camilo Melo (a producer in Colombia) mentions that to reduce fungus, there should be a short time period between coffee picking and de-pulping. Indeed, “temperature, humidity, coffee varietals and soil are important variables” and he says that he is constantly innovating to meet and counter variables. After de-pulping, the coffee should be taken to the drying beds and rotated every 30-60 minutes.
Washed coffee, is where the coffee fruit flesh is removed from the coffee; and the coffee is “washed” via fermentation, wood sticks and water, and then sun dried on coffee beds. [Read this post for more details]
Washed coffee involves picking ripe cherries, de-pulping them and removing the defects using a water floatation method.
The coffee is then fermented for 36-48 hours to remove the sugars from its parchment in tanks.
By Karyan Ng.
This is the sixth post in an eight-part introductory blog series about Specialty Coffee. Read the previous posts here. Sign up to the newsletter for regular post updates. This blog series was not sponsored in any manner.