How To Buy Coffee: How Coffee Processing Affects The Coffee You Drink
Drinking coffee well, made easy
I'm just going to make this really simple and relatable: You can rely on the processing information to tell you a lot about whether this is the coffee for you. If you're reading this, you're most likely trying to find out how to buy coffee based on what you want to taste. Whether it's beans at a roaster or choosing what to drink at a cafe, this should help you easily tell what certain coffees are like
Here's a list of processing methods and how they might taste to you
*Disclaimer: This is only a generic guide. Of course there are variations, and processing is so diverse. I'm just helping the everyday drinker to identify and appreciate coffee for starters
"You can rely on the processing information to tell you a lot about whether this is the coffee for you"
Processing: Flavour Cause & Effect
Natural Processed Coffees
Sometimes seen as "natural" or "sun-dry". Typically, they feature a lot of sweetness, and have a lot of texture. Sometimes, they can be a little funky. Albeit with less clarity, they are overall crowd pleasers.
Why do they taste the way they taste? After picking, coffee cherries are dried intact with the bean still present within. Natural wine drinkers would love the idea of this coffee being "minimal intervention" because all there is to it is just drying (Minimal intervention is still a debatable concept though. Not advocating it)
If you're new to coffee, you might want to try natural processed coffees first to get you acquainted with some fruit forward flavours first
- Texturous, jammy at times
- High sweetness
- Can be slightly funky
Washed Processed Coffees
I would compare them to being on the opposite end of the spectrum compared to naturals. Cleaner and clearer, they (in my opinion) taste more like the actual variety of coffee a that is being grown according to the conditions that the coffee tree is being exposed to.
Why do they taste the way they taste? Quite simply, after picking, the fruit and pulp is removed, cleaned with water, and occasionally left to ferment to remove any residual pulp.
My favourite coffees have usually been washed coffees because, to me, they represent how good a coffee can be purely as it is based on the variety and growing conditions.
If you love lighter bodied coffees as a filter, or just generally enjoy coffees that are crunchy and clean, you might prefer washed coffees
- Crunchy, Clean, structured, clearer
- Silky texture
Honey Processed Coffee
Honeys are like the middle child of processing. The fruit pulp is partially removed like in a washed process, but the remaining pulp is left to dry out in the sun like a natural. Sometimes, they are known as semi-washed
Effect: Great structure, but occasionally surprisingly sweet.
There are way too many honey processed coffees out there to properly give a "general" idea of what the experience is.
On top of that, there are many levels in between honey processed methods (ie. White, yellow, Red, Orange, Purple, Black) that give a glimpse into how much of the mucilage was left on. Generally, the darker the "process colour", the heavier the coffee and vice versa for lighter.
I'd encourage you to try Honey process coffee because of the myriad of flavours possible, owing to it's experimental nature if you want to explore. I love what flavours are possible through this method. For example, we've got La Palma on our roast menu available and we love how the processing gives it a silky texture
- I can't give a typical profile because of how vast it is, but i will say you might find natural processed-like texture paired with Washed Clarity
Experimental - everything else
We've been seeing a lot more experimental methods by producers to really push how their coffees can taste. A lot of them apply some sort of extended fermentation that enhances certain flavours in the coffees. Some methods you might see go by 'Carbonic Maceration' (which is a wine making technique), 'Extended fermentation', 'Anaerobic fermentation' or even 'Lactic Washed'
These are the most exciting methods because they make your coffee taste different from what you normally expect from the regular naturals or washed coffees. Some even taste like rum, or have extreme Lychee forward notes
In closing, I do encourage you to start buying coffee with more awareness to the processing. It represents the effort and the choice that a producer went with to produce something that, in their opinion, would represent what they want their coffees to be
Written by Byron Lim