The processing method is an important descriptor when it comes to picking out your next bag of single origin coffee. It can be the difference between a coffee having that rich boozy winey taste from natural fermentation, or lighter taste almost like tea in washed coffee. Today we're helping you understand the differences so you can make an educated decision on your next bag of coffee, or try something a bit new.
Find out our current range of single origins and their processing methods in our My Single Friend collection.
The Processing Methods
When the coffee cherries are picked from the growing crop, the cherries are depulped to remove the seeds and then dried. Only the best ripe cherries are selected here and, once depulped, the seeds enter water tanks to wash away a sweet sticky fluid that is naturally released from coffee cherries. Once this sticky fluid is washed away, the cherries are dried.
Washing the cherries takes away more bold flavours and allows the more delicate flavours to shine through. Washed coffees are often described as 'clean' and 'crisp' and feel lighter in their taste. This is because their slightly higher and brighter acidity balances the sweetness and flavours are easier to distinguish.
Picture: coffee cherries drying in the sun
As a traditional method, originating in Ethiopia, this coffee involves drying out the coffee cherry where the seeds are still intact and skins are kept on. Coffee cherries are placed in the sun to dry and this encourages natural fermentation that allows growers to keep that sweet sticky fluid to leak from the seed coatings and surround the cherries. This helps contribute to a sweeter, more complex flavour.
The coffee cherries are then depulped and skinned once they are dry and the green coffee is ready to be exported and roasted. You'll notice natural coffees have more of a syrupy boozy taste to them, and that comes from this fermentation process locking in a more ethanolic flavour. We're pretty big fans of this type we have to say!
This method is particularly popular in Indonesia and is also known as semi-washed processing. This method still involves the removal of the seeds from the cherries (like washed coffee processing) however this time the cherries are stored in plastic tanks. This allows the seeds to keep that sweet sticky fluid. The sticky fluid actually creates a husk around the seeds, which is then eventually removed and the seeds are laid out to dry.
As its particular popular in Indonesian Sumatra coffee, coffees with this processing method are often heavy bodied and chocolatey, often with a earthy nutty taste to them too. It's not as much of a sweeter taste and is definitely distinguishable from a natural coffee.
Finally, honey processed coffee. And let's get this misconception sorted out now.. there is no added honey in this process!
The term 'honey' actually comes from that sweet sticky substance we keep talking about. This time, coffee cherries are depulped to remove the seed with the sweet sticky substance ("honey") remaining on the seed. The seeds are still dried out in the sun and husks removed before exporting. This makes the honey process a good in between of washed and natural coffees.
It combines the depulping process of washed coffee, with the remaining of the sweet sticky substance of natural coffees. It leads to a more cleaner body compared to natural coffee, but still has that complexity that washed coffee sometimes lack. It's a little more dialled down and mellow than a natural coffee though.
Honey Process can be a great starting point for trying filter coffees because of this mix. Although, it's a more demanding and strenuous effort to still depulp the coffee and leave it to dry and rake, so it's a little harder to find as many coffees with this processing method.
Got a clearer understanding of single origin coffee? Head to our My Single Friend collection to see what single origin coffees we currently have on offer.