Every morning, when we drink our first cup of coffee, grateful for its magical ability to wake us up (and for the delicious flavor). Most of us think that great coffee is simply a coincidence. Truth is, there’s always a great story behind a cup of coffee.
The flavor spectrum of coffee is wide, and the flavor of a specific one will be a combination of its pre-sowed and post-harvest conditions. Of the latter, the processing method will be the most defining in terms of flavor. Pre-sowed conditions include location, variety, and altitude, and post-harvest conditions include proper processing, adequate fermentation, and precise drying. Much like wine, coffee is fermented not merely because it contributes to giving the coffee a unique flavor, but also because it is a necessary step in the processing method to turn the coffee cherry into a coffee seed which is ultimately what can be dried, roasted and finally prepared.
Keep in mind that great coffee that is grown in good conditions and is appropriately picked but inappropriately processed, will be ruined. On the contrary, a coffee that was not grown in ideal conditions, but properly processed, can still be salvaged. It all depends on the quality and method of processing.
Processing (the process of turning coffee cherries into coffee beans) methods can be divided into three different techniques: natural, honey, and washed.
- Washed coffees are said to be the most “clean” in terms of flavor and also the most popular process you will see in Guatemalan coffees. In this technique, the cherry is first washed, then de-pulped, and then fermented so that the coffee bean loses its jelly-like coating. Fermentation times usually vary between 12-72 hours, depending on the coffee, climate, and conditions. This step in the processing method is extremely important and requires meticulous attention, over fermented coffees come out as defects when cupped afterward. Once fermentation is complete and the coffee bean is “naked”, it is set out to dry.
- Honey coffees are said to be the most “elegant” in terms of flavor. These are also washed, then de-pulped but set out to dry with the jelly-like coating. This jelly-like coating, called the mucilage, contains large amounts of sucrose (sugar) thus giving honey coffees a sweet yet bright and tangy flavor
- Natural coffees are said to be the most “fun” flavor-wise. These fruity-tasting coffees are simply washed and set out to dry with out being de-pulped (the cherry husk is left on). This process is the most primal of the three, and also, the simplest one in terms of machinery. However, without the use of machinery, the drying process needs to be closely monitored and the cherries need to be precisely ripe. Given the amount of humidity in a natural coffee cherry, drying times take longer than washed coffees. This process can take 15-30 days depending on the climate. Legend has it that natural coffees taste like forbidden fruit, but don’t trust us on this one - try it for yourself with our Natural Geisha.
The flavor of the coffee will vary from one processing method to another for many reasons; the most important being the amount of time the coffee bean was exposed to mucilage and pulp. That’s why natural coffees (longest exposure to mucilage and pulp) are said to have extremely different flavors than washed coffees.
The truth is the most common questions we get asked are ‘what’s the best coffee?’, ‘where can I get a great cup of coffee?’ or ‘what is good coffee?’. The answer is good coffee is the coffee you like. So if you’re a coffee enthusiast, trust us when we tell you life is the continuous search for the perfect cup of joe. So the next time you’re craving a good cup, remember to try something different, explore the flavor spectrum of coffee. It will surprise you.
If you want to taste and explore these processing methods, check out our limited edition Grand Cru series! Don’t miss the chance to taste two washed exotic varieties and one natural processed coffee that will blow your taste buds!