You may have noticed that all of our coffees list a “process” alongside the country of origin and varietal. That's because the process after harvest has a big impact on the way your final beverage is going to taste. Once the coffee cherry has been picked and sorted, producers need to remove the skin and pulp of the fruit in order to get to the seeds (the coffee beans) in the middle, as well as drying the coffee beans ready for export. The main methods of achieving this are known as either Washed, Pulped Natural, or Natural.
Depending on the country/region, there are many variations to Washed coffees, but they all aim to remove all of the fruit from the beans before they begin drying the coffee. Sometimes this is done in one go with machinery (for Mechanical Washed or White Honey coffees). The more common (and more traditional) method is to remove the fruit skin and then allow the beans, still with some fruit mucilage left on, to to rest for a while (either dry or with water). During this resting period, oxidation and fermentation processes break down the fruit mucilage and allow it to be easily rinsed off. All of these variations in process can impact flavour of the finished coffee, even down to tiny differences like the temperature of the mucilage whilst its fermenting, and each producer has their own methods and systems to get the best results. Typically, Washed process coffees have higher acidity and cleaner flavours – you're tasting the coffee bean on it's own, with minimal interplay from the compounds and microorganisms present in the fruit pulp.
This process starts out similarly to the Washed process, with the cherries being put through a depulper to remove the outer fruit from the seeds within. Rather than quickly fermenting and rinsing, the green beans are left to dry with some mucilage on them . The sugars and other chemical compounds present in the pulp ferment in contact with the beans during drying, impacting the flavour profile of the finished coffee - the amount of mucilage left is controlled by the processing equipment and is a big factor in flavour. This process is also sometimes referred to as Semi-washed or Honey process, “honey” because of the sweet sticky texture of the mucilage. Colours are used when describing Honey processing, these refer to the amount of mucliage left behind on the seeds and time taken to dry: white being the very least, then yellow, then red, up to black being the very most. Typically, Pulped Natural or Honey coffees will be sweet and balanced, with a bit more body than a Washed coffee. This will vary depending on the amount of fruit left to ferment on the beans during drying - a White Honey will be closer to a Washed coffee and a Black Honey can be very like a Natural processed coffee.
The Natural process, sometimes called Dry Processed or Unwashed, leaves the cherries fully intact after picking and sorting. Whole cherries are dried without removing any of the fruit at all, causing the mucilage and skins to shrivel up around the seeds as they dry. Once fully dry, the cherries are put through machinery at a Mill to remove the fruit, leaving just the green beans behind. The thick layer of fruit fermenting in contact with the seeds as they dry imparts different flavours to the finished coffee. Natural coffees tend to have rounder, sweeter flavour profiles leaning towards sticky fruit or rich chocolate. They usually have a heavier mouthfeel than Washed coffees and sometimes have a noticeably “funky” quality.
Further to these three classic methods, some producers now opt to work with experimental processes too. These will usually be based around one of the previously described procedures, with key steps adjusted to produce exciting new results. Anaerobic fermentation, carbonic maceration, lactic fermentation, Coco Naturals, cold or speedy washing... there is a lot going on at origin these days! While these methods are still relatively unusual, they are something we're seeing more and more often, as producers innovate and explore what can be achieved with their coffees. These processes are usually unique and highly variable so too complicated to dissect in one newsletter... if you spot one on the shop be sure to have a gander at the Product Information section for all the ins and outs!