How do you choose your coffee? What is the detail, the information that tips the balance? Is it important to you to know how your coffee is processed? If not, we hope this article will change your mind.
Coffee "cherries" are made up of several layers: the skin, the pulp, the mucilage, the parchment, the "silver skin" and finally the beans (or bean in the case of a peaberry). The names of the processes depend on what you do or don't do with the cherry once it's been harvested.
The natural process: the original way to dry coffee. The method is seemingly simple, but proves difficult to master. The beans are left to ferment in the whole cherry for approximately 3 to 4 weeks. This gives the beans plenty of time to interact with the fruit's natural sugars and the enzymes that break down the mucilage. During the fermentation period, the cherries must be turned frequently, and care must be taken to remove over-ripe cherries. If the job is well done, you'll be treated to lovely sweet notes of fruit and jam. A cup with complexity and depth. The natural process is generally used in dry climates and in countries where access to water can be an issue. At Jungle, we love natural coffee for its surprising, sometimes even disconcerting, character. We love fruity coffee that takes you on a journey from the very first sip.
The washed process: Certainly the preferred process for specialty coffee, washed coffee is coffee from which the top layers have been removed, often mechanically using a pulper, before the drying process begins. The skin, pulp and mucilage are removed to expose the parchment and silver skin, a membrane covering the beans. Once the fruit has been removed in this way, the kernel is left to ferment for a few hours in constantly moving water, before being dried outside. This process is particularly appreciated, since nothing interferes with the quality of the beans. In a way, it's the taste of the grain at its simplest. Of course, this process is energy-intensive and requires easy access to a source of drinking water, which is not always easy in mountainous terrain, for example.
The "honey" process: First developed in Costa Rica in response to a drought that was affecting growers, the honey process involves removing part of the fruit to expose the mucilage, the juiciest part of the fruit whose clear, viscous appearance is reminiscent of honey. There are 4 types of honey process: black, red, yellow and white. Their names refer to the thickness of mucilage left on the bean. Black honey is when all or almost all the mucilage is present on the bean. Red honey retains less mucilage than black honey, and yellow honey even less. Finally, when only a thin layer of mucilage remains, we obtain a white honey. This is a relatively young practice, and producers are still experimenting a lot with it. It's a great technique, precisely because it gives growers a lot of latitude to try out different profiles, until they find what brings out the best in their coffee. In our view, this process combines the best aspects of the two more traditional methods: the surprising fruitiness of natural coffee meets the straightforwardness and precision of washed coffee.
As you can see, the process has a lot to do with the final product that ends up in our coffee bag. Producers and washing station owners go to great lengths to bring out the best in their coffee. The next time you buy a coffee, make sure you take note of the process used, and you'll see just how important it is.