As you dive deeper into the wonderful world of coffee there might be some words that get thrown around that you might not be very familiar with. Words like "Natural", or "Red Honey" are printed on some of Ragamuffin's single-origin coffee labels, but what does that really mean?
It describes the processing method the coffee farm has used to extract the coffee "bean" from the coffee cherry and it can have a major impact on how the final cup will taste. There are three main processes we'll focus on today; Washed, Natural and, Honey.
Washed or wet processing involves more equipment but can produce the most consistent results. After being harvested the coffee cherries are brought to a wet processing mill where they will be soaked in water. Defective cherries are screened out, as unripe or overly matured cherries float and are prevented from getting to the next stage of the process.
The ripe cherries will then be put into a de-pulping machine, this machine separates the skin and fruit from the beans. A sticky and sugary layer, known as the mucilage, remains. The beans then travel into tanks that will be filled with water, they will sit in these ‘fermentation tanks’ for between 12 and 24 hours, depending on the country of origin. This fermentation allows the mucilage to be easily removed from the bean. Once fermentation is complete, the beans, that are still in their parchment, are then dried on patios or drying tables.
Washed coffees tend to have a lighter body, lower in sweetness and this method preserves more acidity, with cleaner more defined flavor profiles. For the farmer, the benefits of wet processing allow for significantly less risk and a more consistent product.
(Ex. Ethiopia Kayon Mountain, Guatemala Finca de Dios)
Natural coffees sometimes referred to dry-processed, are dried in the fruit that surrounded them when they grew. Instead of washing away the cherry pulp, the farm allows the cherry to ferment around the seeds (i.e. coffee beans) and dry out in the sun. After the cherry has been picked it is laid out on patios or large drying tables. Once the cherry has dried the seeds are easier to remove.
Coffee produced by this processing method is often heavy in body, sweet, smooth, and complex. Naturals are often very intense in flavor making it one of our favorites to roast.
Also referred to as the "pulped natural" or "semi-washed" process, this processing method can be described as a mixture between the two previously described methods. As with the washed process, a pulping machine partially removes the cherry from the seed.
What makes the Honey Process so different is at this stage in the process the mucilage is left on. The mucilage is a thin gooey layer that surrounds the parchment, essentially acting like a protective layer to the bean. It is also very sweet in flavor and this is what makes the defining characteristic of ‘honey’ process coffee. Once dry, the mucilage gives the coffee a heightened sweetness and more body in the cup.
I hope this helped give you a breif understanding of a few of the main ways to processes coffee. Every harvest farmers continue to experiment with these processes, each one providing a unique flavor note to the final cup. You may even seen a few experimental processing showing up on our shelves very soon. So what's your favorite coffee process? Let us know in the comments below.
Notes: This post will be continually updated with our coffees as we receive new harvests.