People don’t often put a lot of thought into the processing their coffee goes through before it reaches their table. Even some avid coffee enthusiasts don’t have a good understanding of the overall process, and simply focus on what they do with the coffee once it’s in their hands, like finding good grinding settings. The reality is that coffee processing is a very interesting field, with several approaches utilized by most companies around the world at the moment. Most coffee sold is either dry processed, washed, or honey processed – and each of those methods comes with its own implications for the final product.
Dry Processed Coffee
Dry processing is one of the slowest methods of processing coffee and takes noticeably longer than washing or honey processing. However, it’s also the best way to produce certain complex flavor profiles, particularly ones with more fruitiness. Dry processing is very suitable for certain types of coffee beans, but it can be challenging to find other types of coffee processed in this manner. The main idea behind dry processing is that the coffee beans are simply left to dry out in the sun. This slowly shrinks the fruit around the coffee bean, producing more interesting flavors and mixing the fruit’s own original flavor with that of your coffee.
Some coffee enthusiasts don’t enjoy dry processed coffee for these exact same reasons, claiming that it makes the coffee taste too sweet and distracts too much from its more important flavors. This is entirely a matter of personal preference, but it’s something worth keeping in mind. You should definitely give dry processed coffee a try but remember that it might not be up your alley.
On the contrary, washed coffee is processed by separating the fruit from the beans completely in the beginning. Afterward, the beans are soaked and left for several days until they can ferment properly. An additional wash at the end of the fermentation process removes any excess fruit matter, leaving the beans completely separated. In the end, they’re left to dry out naturally. Most coffee you can buy right now is processed in this manner, and this is one of the most popular techniques on the global market at the moment.
The main difference between washed and dry processed coffee is that the former tends to have a much smoother, cleaner taste, allowing you to focus entirely on the flavor profile of the coffee itself. If you don’t enjoy a fruity aroma or taste in your cup of coffee, this is a method you are more likely to enjoy. It’s not hard to find coffee of any type processed in this manner, and it’s a great way to get started with trying out different coffees in the first place. However, if you discover that you don’t like the flavor created by this type of processing, this can be quite unfortunate, as it will limit your available options severely.
Honey Processed Coffee
Honey processing is a mixture of both approaches. The name is a bit misleading, as no actual honey is involved in the process – rather, it refers to the substance produced, which tends to be thick and sticky, much like honey. Honey processing involves taking the beans and removing most of the fruit, then leaving them to dry in the air without any additional washing. Since some parts of the fruit are still attached to the beans, this produces a different flavor compared to both regular washing and dry processing.
Honey processing is mostly a matter of taste preference, and in some cases it’s also used because it can be more economical. There are several distinct types of coffee that can be produced through honey processing, related to the final state of the sticky substance around the beans. The process can be stopped at different stages of the drying, resulting in different grades of darkness on the “honey”, and as a result, a completely different flavor profile. The exact same beans can taste very differently with honey processing, depending solely on how long they’ve been left to dry.
The typical honey processing flow chart is more complicated than the processes involved in regular drying and washing for this reason, but the process is also known for delivering more unique, interesting results that are sought after by avid coffee enthusiasts. In the end, it’s still natural coffee one way or another – this has nothing to do with modifying the flavor profile through the use of additives and similar procedures. Choosing to go with honey washing over other processing methods is about bringing out the best flavor in your favorite beans and exploring new ways to experience them.
Is There a Definitive Winner?
With all this in mind, what’s the best way to process coffee? As with many things in the world of coffee enthusiasts, the answer is completely subjective. Some will defend honey washing to the end, telling you that they will have their coffee in no other way. For others, the classic flavor of washed coffee is something with no substitute. And then there are those who enjoy coffee not just for its basic flavors, but for the complex mixture of different notes and aromas – something that works best with dry processing.
It doesn’t matter which one you’ll choose in the end, as long as you’ve given all options a chance. Don’t assume that you love washed coffee just because that was what you tried first and you enjoyed it. Sure, fruity flavor profiles are not for everyone, and some people actively avoid them. But if you’ve never tried it for yourself, there’s no way to know if you’re in that group.
How the Industry Has Been Changing in Recent Years
Honey processing is still a relatively new method and it’s seeing a lot of development from many different companies involved in the coffee market. It’s already become a very popular option in some parts of the world because it tends to use less water compared to washing, but still produces a more unique flavor profile. At the same time, some markets have been reluctant to adopting new processing methods, partly for economic reasons and partly due to the attitude of consumers themselves. You’d find it very difficult to convince people in some areas that honey washed coffee is something they want to try.
The Importance of Proper Roasting
Remember that it’s not just about the initial processing – that’s just one step in the overall chain. Roasting can affect the flavor just as much, and it’s something that you can have control over if you prefer. Roasting your own coffee can make it more complicated and time-consuming to enjoy a cup of your favorite beverage, but some people insist on controlling as much of the process as they can. And since it’s practically impossible to be in control of your own drying (at least not with the budget of most people), roasting and grinding is a different story.
Preparation Still Matters a Lot
On a related note, you must also pay attention to how exactly you’re preparing your coffee. This should go without saying, but some people assume that just because their coffee has been processed in a certain way, they should expect a consistent flavor every time. The truth is that preparation can affect the final flavor even more than the processing method used in the beginning, and it’s something you can easily experiment with and try out different combinations.
Therefore, you should try out as many different combinations as you can before settling on anything specific. Buy different brands of coffee, ensure that you get at least one of each processing type, and then experiment how different preparation methods affect their flavors. Keep in mind that we’re far from having discovered all viable combinations, especially in the context of how new honey processing is compared to other methods.
You never know when you might come across something that blows you away, and as long as you keep trying out different approaches, you’re pretty much guaranteed to run into a more exciting combination sooner or later. Explore online communities – there are lots of people out there talking about their love for coffee and documenting their experiments with different preparation methods. It can seem a bit overwhelming at first but joining one of those communities can provide you with some amazing insights into how this all works.
It doesn’t matter if you’re still new to coffee or if you’ve been enjoying it for a while. Trying out as many different processing methods as you can is mandatory if you’re interested in finding the best flavor out there. Even with the most natural process, coffee can still have a very unique and exciting flavor, and you should never disregard any particular options. Even if you don’t consider yourself a huge coffee enthusiast, you never know when you might discover your favorite new hobby!