Coffee is complex, and a multitude of factors contribute to the flavor that ends up in your cup. Much like wine, the final flavor depends on the variety of tree grown, the agricultural conditions of the farm, and the coffee processing methods performed upon the beans post-harvest.
More than 100 coffee varieties exist, and each differ from one another in size, shape, flavor, and resistance to disease. Certain varieties are common to specific geographies, or farmers may seek out and select varieties specifically for their flavor profiles or the resilience of the plants.
No matter the variety grown, coffee farmers must choose a processing method for their coffee: washed process, natural process, or honey process. Coffee processing methods can vary based on geography and customs for handling coffee. Below is a brief description of the three basic coffee processing methods.
For a washed-process coffee, farmers rinse the coffee fruit from the beans upon picking. The beans then soak in tanks, and the mucilage left from the fruit is removed either mechanically or through controlled fermentation. After soaking, the coffee dries in a machine or on outdoor drying patios. Most common in Latin America, the washed process emphasizes cup cleanness and clarity with a mellower flavor and more balanced flavor profile. A prime example of this method, the Guatemala Rosma boasts a deliciously sweet profile and naturally balanced body.
While the washed process removes the fruit from the coffee cherry before drying, the natural process keeps the fruit on the bean while it dries. Coffee cherries dry on raised outdoor beds with intermittent rotation. East African coffee-producing countries most commonly utilize this method, but it has gained popularity in Latin America as specialty coffee farmers experiment with different processes. Natural-processed coffees retain bright, fruity flavors and pair well with coffee varieties that possess a natural acidity. One of our favorite examples is the Costa Rica Perla Negra, made possible by ongoing innovation of our partners at that farm.
The third coffee processing method known as Honey Process or Semi-Washed describes coffees processed using techniques from both the washed and the natural methods. Honey Process coffees are washed of their outer skin and then laid in the sun to dry with the mucilage still intact. The amount of mucilage left intact and how long it dries can vary and create drastically different cups. For more information about honey process coffees, see our blog post on the topic. One of our favorite examples of a honey processed coffee is our Panama Santa Teresa Honey, a delightfully unique and floral cup.
We are incredibly proud of the work that our origin-based partners do and we do everything in our power to support them. By trading directly with over 70% of our farms and maintaining strong relationships with our non-direct partners, we provide resources, training, and consistent income. This allows farmers to experiment in coffee cultivation and bring us the most phenomenal coffees on the market. For more information about our trading practices, see our Authenticity Report.
For further reading about coffee botany and processing explore the following resources from the Specialty Coffee Association, Cafe Imports, and Atlas Coffee. If you are left with more questions, feel free to stop by one of our cafes and talk with one of our knowledgeable baristas. Our staff is always happy to help you explore the world of coffee.