Tom Lambros - Apri 2020
Coffee Processing: What does it mean
IIf you’ve purchased specialty coffees that come with information about the farm/producer, you may have wondered about the different processes of producing coffee at source. You may have seen phrases like “natural process” or “fermented”. Here is a little guide of what to expect for each process available!
Coffee Processing Methods
Fermented (Aerobic/Anaerobic/Carbonic Maceration)
Washed is definitely the most common way to process coffee at source. This process completely removes any skin on the coffee cherry before drying on patios or beds. Washed beans appear clean and polished with no skins or other fibers. In a washed process coffee, the flavour of the bean comes from the environmental factors – therefore the coffee must have absorbed enough nutrients and sugars during growth. Washed is believed to be the process that best highlights a single origin bean without any other environmental factors.
Washed beans appear clean and polished
In a natural processed coffee – the skin of the cherry remains on the bean through the drying process. Though this process is often viewed as a less expensive process, there are various environmental factors that must be perfectly controlled to properly dry the beans. When processed this way, the fruit skin imparts fruitier, exotic flavours on the coffee itself. Though some view this method as less consistent, others have found very interesting flavour notes when cupping Natural coffees.
Natural Coffees will have fragments of skin left on the bean
Fermenting is a very new method that is becoming very common in the specialty market. Similar to natural process, fermenting keeps the skin on the bean for a period of time prior to washing. By letting the cherry ferment, tart, fruitier flavours stick to the bean – and then it can be washed normally. Fermented coffees have jammier, dried fruit like flavour and can be extremely exotic and fruity.
There are various methods of fermentation – but some more involved than others. Anaerobic Fermentation is done by letting the beans ferment in a vertical drum while removing any oxygen – giving the producer more control of the flavours imparted during fermentation. Carbonic Maceration goes a step further and introduces C02 into the drum to pressurize it – causing the cherries to violently break open and further impart their flavour on the beans inside.
Fermented coffees have pieces of skin, and mucilage left on the beans while they ferment. They are washed prior to shipping.
Monsoon process is used mainly for Asian and Indian coffees. It is a process of washing the beans and then laying them in sheds along a coastline. By storing the coffee this way, the natural moisture in the air from the rainy season is absorbed by the beans – making them much larger in size. The result is an earthier, spicier coffee.
Monsooned beans appear swollen and much lighter in color than traditional beans
Honey process is a name that describes how sticky the beans get during processing. The mucilage (the thin membrane between the bean and the cherry) is left on instead of washing. The level of mucilage left determines the process. The longer the mucilage stays on makes the honey thicker or heavier, starting at yellow, then red, then black. The more honey, the sweeter the taste of the bean but honey processed coffee will indeed be sweeter – almost like honey!
Honey Processed beans appear to be... you guessed it, covered in honey! They are sticky to the touch but are also washed prior to shipping
Now after all that, you may ask which is the best? Not so easy! If you like fruitier, tart flavours, then naturals/fermented coffees will probably suit your palate best! If you prefer more nuttier, chocolatey flavours, then washed coffees will probably be better for you. Either way, we recommend you try them all and see for yourself!