How coffees are processed affects your taste.
Exceptional coffee begins with exceptional beans. But that’s no secret. However, the way the beans are processed plays a tremendous part in the way your coffee actually “feels” and tastes.
To help make your coffee odyssey even more interesting, we will talk about the four most common processing methods, along with their effects on flavor,
The common methods are known as:
- wet process, also known as washed
- natural process, also known as dry
- honey process
- wet-hulled process
The entire fruit or “cherry,” of the coffee tree is used In wet processing. Furthermore, the beans are technically seeds inside the cherry-like fruit.
Wet coffees are characterized by:
- higher acidity
- fuller body
- clean tasting
- often have a citrus or floral taste.
The layers of skin/pulp are removed and allowed to naturally ferment between 12 and 72 hours. This happens before the drying phase. As a result, you taste more of the inside of the bean. For instance, the process helps spotlight the authentic character of a single-origin bean. More so than other processing methods. Above all, it is important that the beans have absorbed the right amount of natural sugars and nutrients, throughout the growing cycle,,
In the end, the science of growing coffee, the skill of the farmers, the country of origin soil and climate, all combine to create the unique flavor.
Unlike wet coffees, natural coffees are processed with the skin and pulp left on the bean before drying. Consequently, this has little or no interference to the drying process.
Natural coffees are characterized by:
- lighter body
- lower acidity
- sweet flavor
- sometimes with complex fruitiness.
The natural process demands specific environmental conditions to allow the fruit and seed dry sufficiently. However it’s a relatively inexpensive option.
The natural process has been a topic of debate. Namely, the natural process has been known to be considered a lower-quality option, yielding inconsistent flavors. In contrast, many believe the process may create extremely interesting, flavorful coffees.
Natural coffee is the most environmentally friendly. In particular, it needs the least amount of hands-on processing,
Honey Process (or pulped-natural)
Honey processed coffees are generally much sweeter. In reality, it has nothing to do with honey. Actually, the term “honey” refers to the sticky mucilage left on the beans during processing. Honey processed coffee is somewhere between a wet and a natural processed coffee. As a result, these coffees are slightly fruity and with balanced acidity and a complex mouthfeel.
In this method, the skin and pulp are removed from coffee cherries. In addition, the sticky outer layer of the fruit is left intact. This is allowed to dry without washing. The length of drying time creates varying levels of oxidation. Thus, the oxidation opens up possibilities of black, white, golden and red honey varieties.
The amount of mucilage or gumminess left around the bean, contributes to the coffee’s sweetness and depth of body.
One benefit of the honey process, is that it uses less water and is environmentally friendly.
This relatively newer process, is a hybrid of wet and dry processing. Although the wet-hulled process is similar to the wet process, the finished products are very different.
The wet-hulled flavor is earthy and the body is heavy. In addition, acidity is lower. In contrast, wet-processed coffees have a fresher taste, lighter body and higher acidity.
The wet-hulled process is native to Indonesia, specifically the islands of Sumatra and Sulawesi. The process is a product of the area’s unique climate and more complicated than other processing methods.
Farmers pick the coffee and separate the skin/pulp from the coffee cherries. After which then ferment overnight, removing the fruit layer. The wet-hulled coffee is dried for just a few hours, compared to weeks. After a number of processing steps, the coffee is ready to export about a month after it’s picked.
Why does this matter? Because in Indonesia, the rain and humid climate make it hard to dry coffee for extended periods. The climate accelerates growing conditions. Hence, the farmers must pick, process, and sell their coffee as fast as possible.
Wet-hulled coffees might be an acquired taste, with their intense flavors. However, a single-origin Sulawesi or Tanzania experience might prove an exciting adventure indeed! We can testify to this, as Burwell Beans’ top seller is a single origin Sumatra (Dark Timbre).
Be adventurous! Try some different coffees and experiment. Burwell Beans offer coffees with various processing methods. Read more about the coffees in the description box. Here you will find more about the coffee and how it was produced. Try some different roast levels. See how the acidity sweetness differ. Look out for a future article on tasting attributes. That is a great topic for its own blog!