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  • Grant Harrisson

WHAT IS FULLY WASHED, NATURAL AND THE LATEST HONEY PROCESSED COFFEE? …

Updated: Apr 26, 2018

Before the ripe coffee cherries can become your favourite coffee beverage, they must go through one of these processes, either washed, natural or honey. In a quick guide, we will give you a breakdown of the different process methods with emphasis on the honey process. Why? because, we landed our first shipment of honey process beans from Long Miles Coffee, Burundi, this season. We are enjoying the excellent new flavours and profiles our roaster partners have been discovering!

To start let’s look at what a coffee bean has to do with cherries …

The layers of a ripe coffee cherry are;

· Cherry-like outer skin & mucilage - The two coffee seeds (beans) are covered by an outer skin which is cherry red when fully ripe. Some varieties do however ripen with orange and yellow cherry fruit. Beneath this red cherry skin is a layer of mucilage which is a sticky mushy substance containing sugars, making up the fruity structure.

· Parchment - Between the mucilage and the beans is a skin-like layer referred to as parchment, which protects the green inner bean. Coffee is dried on raised beds while in its protective parchment, which will be removed during the hulling process after being dried to 11% moisture.

· Silver skin - The final layer before the prized green bean is revealed is a thin fury silvery skin layer referred to as the silver skin. This layer comes off during roasting process where it is referred to as chaff.

· Coffee Bean or seed – and finally! the beautiful green coloured bean which will be roasted by our master roast partners and become your favourite coffee beverage.

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The 3 main Process methods are :

Fully washed process – this is the most widely used method in the Arabica coffee growing regions. With this method the full cherries, skin and mucilage, are removed, firstly through a pulper which will remove the outer skin. The beans with mucilage are then fed into fermentation tanks with fresh water, where they are held in the tanks for 12hours to 6 days, depending on the processors technique. After the “coffee dance”, is completed and all the mucilage is removed the coffee in parchment is laid on drying tables.

Most specialty coffees are washed coffees, as the bean quality and flavour depend purely on the bean not mucilage sugars. This means the bean quality is a year-long process, from the varietal, farming techniques, weather conditions, ripeness when picked, all the way through fermentation and drying process all have a major role to play with final green bean quality.

Washed coffees have a more pronounced acidity with a cleaner cup and flavours with a medium body. If there are any defects in the bean the FW process is less forgiving, with only the finest beans being graded as specialty.

With the environmental impact due to the amount of water used in this process and changing climate conditions in several specialty regions, farmers and processors are developing methods to re-use run-off water for irrigation and fertilizer.

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Natural or sundried – the oldest and simplest method, at least to explain, the full cherried-coffee is picked and put out to dry, for up to 4 weeks then dry milled, that’s it. This method has its roots in Ethiopia, where Harrar coffees are strictly only processed this way. Although the simplest with regards to not requiring pulpers, washing tanks and lots of waters, it does require attention to regular rotation, to prevent moulds and other such damage. This method is also at the mercy of the local climate conditions which will have an impact on the process and bean quality consistency. This inconsistency with quality is why naturals were often regarded as inferior and not as prized at the fully washed.

With water challenges in many growing regions, processors are putting more focus and attention to natural coffees with some processors discussing having a different grading system to washed coffees.

With more quality naturals becoming available and better pricing for the farmer the rich body and sweetness of these beans will become more regular at your local roaster. … AND off course it remains the most environmentally friendly method too.

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Photo Credit . @goldmtncoffee

And the Honey process – the new kid on the block for coffee, originating in Costa Rica in the early 2000’s and gaining momentum as a process method throughout Central America and now in Burundi through Long Miles Coffee. With this method, the sweetest ripe cherries are selected during harvest, the cherries are depulped with varying amounts of mucilage still attached. The remaining mucilage is why the process is called Honey, as it dries on the drying tables, the mucilage becomes sticky and honey-like. This method requires attention to detail from controlling the exposure to direct sun and regular rotation on the dry tables. To better classify t

· White/ yellow honey – the least amount of mucilage remains and exposed to the most amount of sunlight, after a week on the dry tables the parchment coffee looks like yellow honey. The yellow and white honey coffees from Long Miles are pulped, pre-dried for 2 days and another 10+ days on the drying tables, with 2 dedicated personnel to rotate the coffee. These coffees have more pronounced acidity than naturals, but less that FW coffees they also have a more cleaner taste.

· Red honey – a larger percent of mucilage is left after pulping and exposed to shade and direct sunlight for up to four weeks, the longer drying time makes the mucilage oxidise red. The red honey coffees from Long Miles are pulped and pre-dried for 2 days before spending 22days+ on partial shade drying tables, with 5 dedicated carers monitoring and rotating. These coffees have a medium acidity with a fuller body, giving a great overall balance in the cup with sweeter flavours.

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