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Understanding the Methods: Natural Processed Coffee vs Honey Processed Coffees

Coffee processing methods play a crucial role in shaping the flavor, aroma, and characteristics of the final cup. Two popular processing methods, Natural and Honey processing, have gained significant attention in the coffee industry. This article aims to provide a comprehensive comparison between Natural processed coffee and Honey processed coffees, shedding light on their unique attributes, challenges, and impacts on the final cup quality.

Also Read: From Trees to Your Cup: 3 Types of Coffee Processing Methods

Understanding Natural Processed Coffee

Natural processed coffee, also known as dry processed coffee, is a method of processing coffee cherries to extract the coffee beans. It is one of the three primary processing methods used in the coffee industry, alongside washed (wet) processing and honey processing.

Here’s how natural processed coffee is typically produced:

  1. Harvesting: Ripe coffee cherries are hand-picked from the coffee plants. Only the fully mature cherries are selected for processing.
  2. Sorting: The harvested cherries are sorted to remove any underripe or overripe cherries, as well as debris and leaves. This step ensures that only high-quality cherries are used.
  3. Drying: Unlike other processing methods, natural processed coffee involves drying the whole cherry intact, with the pulp and the bean still inside. The cherries are spread out on drying beds or patios in thin layers to dry under the sun. They are regularly raked and turned to ensure even drying and prevent fermentation.
  4. Fermentation: During the drying process, the cherries undergo a fermentation stage. The sugars in the pulp of the cherries interact with the beans, imparting unique flavors to the coffee. This fermentation can last several weeks depending on the weather conditions.
  5. Hulling: Once the cherries have dried completely, the outer skin, pulp, and parchment layer (pergamino) are removed in a process called hulling. This reveals the green coffee beans inside.
  6. Sorting and grading: The dried beans are sorted and graded based on their size, color, and density. This step helps separate high-quality beans from defects or lower-grade ones.
  7. Roasting: The green coffee beans are then roasted to bring out their flavor and aroma. Natural processed coffees often have distinct fruity and wine-like flavors due to the fermentation that occurs during the drying process.

When compared to washed or honey treated coffees, natural processed coffee has a fuller body, reduced acidity, and more noticeable sweetness. The flavor profile varies greatly based on the coffee origin, varietal, and expertise of the coffee grower.

Natural processed coffees are popular in areas where water resources are scarce or when the traditional procedure matches the desired flavor profile. They can provide unique and exotic flavor experiences, but they must be handled with care throughout processing to minimize flaws and off-flavors.

Unveiling Honey Processed Coffees

Honey processed coffee, also known as pulped natural coffee, is another method of processing coffee cherries that falls between the natural (dry) processing and washed (wet) processing methods. It is named “honey” due to the sticky, honey-like consistency of the mucilage that remains on the beans during the drying process. Honey processed coffees have gained popularity in recent years for their unique flavor profiles and complexity.

Here’s an overview of how honey processed coffee is typically produced:

  1. Harvesting: Ripe coffee cherries are harvested from the coffee plants, similar to other processing methods. Only fully mature cherries are selected for processing.
  2. Depulping: The harvested cherries are then depulped to remove the outer skin and most of the pulp, leaving a sticky layer of mucilage (honey) intact around the beans. The level of mucilage left on the beans can vary, ranging from white (white honey) to yellow (yellow honey), red (red honey), or black (black honey), indicating different levels of sugar content and intensity.
  3. Drying: The coffee beans with the remaining mucilage are spread out to dry, typically on raised drying beds or patios. During the drying process, the mucilage ferments and interacts with the beans, imparting distinctive flavors. The beans need to be regularly turned and monitored to ensure even drying and prevent over-fermentation or mold growth.
  4. Sorting and grading: Once the beans have dried to the desired moisture content, they are hulled to remove the remaining parchment layer. The dried honey processed beans are then sorted and graded based on their size, color, and quality.
  5. Roasting: The sorted honey processed beans are ready for roasting. Roasting brings out the flavors and aromas inherent in the beans. Honey processed coffees often exhibit a balanced flavor profile, with sweetness and acidity that can vary depending on the degree of fermentation and the specific characteristics of the beans.

Honey processed coffees fall somewhere in the midst of natural and washed coffees. They have some of the fruitiness and complexity of natural processed coffees, as well as the cleanliness and brightness of washed coffees. Depending on the processing settings and coffee variety, the flavor profiles of honey treated coffees can range from fruity and floral to caramel-like or even nutty.

It’s important to note that honey processing requires careful attention and expertise to control the fermentation and drying process effectively. The degree of mucilage left on the beans and the duration of fermentation can greatly influence the final flavor profile. As a result, honey processed coffees often come with a higher price tag compared to other processing methods due to the additional labor and meticulousness involved.

Also Read: Wet Hulled Coffee Process: Unique Technique from Indonesia

Key Differences between Natural and Honey Processing

Processing steps and techniques

Natural Processing:

  • In natural processing, the whole coffee cherries are dried intact, with the pulp and bean still inside.
  • The cherries are spread out in thin layers on drying beds or patios to dry under the sun.
  • Regular raking and turning of the cherries are necessary to ensure even drying and prevent fermentation.
  • Once dried, the outer skin, pulp, and parchment layer are removed through hulling.

Honey Processing:

  • In honey processing, the cherries are depulped to remove the outer skin and some of the pulp, leaving a sticky layer of mucilage (honey) around the beans.
  • The beans with the remaining mucilage are then dried, typically on raised drying beds or patios.
  • During drying, the mucilage ferments and interacts with the beans.
  • Regular turning and monitoring of the beans are essential to ensure proper fermentation and drying.

Impact on flavor development

Natural Processing:

  • Natural processed coffees often exhibit pronounced fruity and wine-like flavors.
  • The fermentation that occurs during drying contributes to the unique flavor profile.
  • The extended contact between the bean and the cherry pulp can result in a heavier body, lower acidity, and increased sweetness in the cup.

Honey Processing:

  • Honey processed coffees can have a wide range of flavor profiles depending on the degree of fermentation and mucilage left on the beans.
  • They offer a balance between the fruitiness of natural processed coffees and the cleanliness of washed coffees.
  • Flavor profiles can vary from fruity and floral to caramel-like or nutty, depending on the specific processing parameters and coffee variety.

Environmental considerations

Natural Processing:

  • Natural processing requires less water compared to washed processing since it doesn’t involve extensive washing and fermentation tanks.
  • This makes it a more environmentally friendly option in regions with limited access to water resources.

Honey Processing:

  • Honey processing also requires less water compared to washed processing but more than natural processing.
  • The mucilage remaining on the beans needs to be carefully monitored during drying to prevent fermentation issues and potential environmental impacts like water pollution or excessive water usage.

Natural and Honey Processed Varieties of Indonesian Coffee

In Indonesia, various coffee varieties are processed using natural and honey processing methods, resulting in unique flavor profiles. Here are some Indonesian coffee varieties known for their natural and honey processed versions:

  1. Sumatra Gayo Natural/Honey
    The Gayo coffee from the Aceh region of Sumatra is sometimes processed naturally or with the honey method. Natural processed Gayo coffee exhibits a heavy body, low acidity, and earthy flavors with hints of chocolate, tobacco, and spices. Honey processed Gayo coffee offers a slightly cleaner cup with a syrupy sweetness, showcasing notes of dark chocolate, caramel, and tropical fruits.
  2. Java Arabica Natural/Honey
    Java Arabica coffee, grown on the island of Java, can be processed naturally or with the honey method. Natural processed Java Arabica beans can display a wide range of flavors, including fruity notes, floral undertones, and a syrupy sweetness. Honey processed Java Arabica exhibits a cleaner and brighter cup, often highlighting floral and citrus flavors with a delicate sweetness.
  3. Bali Kintamani Natural/Honey
    Coffee from the Kintamani region in Bali is occasionally processed naturally or with the honey method. Natural processed Bali Kintamani beans typically have a medium body, bright acidity, and flavors that can range from fruity and floral to spicy and herbal. Honey processed Bali Kintamani coffee offers a cleaner and more refined cup with prominent fruit flavors, floral aromatics, and a lingering sweetness.
  4. Flores Bajawa Natural/Honey
    Coffee from the Bajawa region on the island of Flores may undergo natural or honey processing. Natural processed Flores Bajawa coffee usually has a medium body, low to medium acidity, and flavor profiles that can include fruity, chocolatey, and caramel notes. Honey processed Flores Bajawa beans offer a cleaner cup, enhancing the fruity and chocolate flavors with a gentle sweetness and a smooth mouthfeel.
  5. Toraja Sulawesi Natural/Honey
    Toraja coffee from the highlands of Sulawesi can be processed naturally or with the honey method. Natural processed Toraja Sulawesi coffee is known for its full body, low acidity, and flavors that can range from earthy and herbal to fruity and spicy. Honey processed Toraja coffee highlights the inherent flavors with improved clarity, showcasing a complex profile of ripe fruits, spices, and a rounded sweetness.

Also Read: The History and Process of Civet Coffee in Indonesia

Cupping and Quality Evaluation

Cupping and quality evaluation play crucial roles in assessing the flavor profiles and overall quality of coffees processed using the natural and honey methods. Here are some key considerations for cupping and evaluating natural and honey processed coffees:

Fragrance and Aroma:
During cupping, pay attention to the fragrance and aroma of the brewed coffee. Natural processed coffees often exhibit intense and pronounced fruity and floral aromas. Look for specific notes like berries, tropical fruits, or flowers. Honey processed coffees can also showcase fruity and floral aromatics, but they may exhibit nuances of caramel, honey, or syrup.

Acidity:
Evaluate the acidity of the coffee. Natural processed coffees tend to have lower acidity compared to honey processed coffees. Natural processed coffees may exhibit a softer, mellow acidity that complements their fruity flavors. Honey processed coffees can display a brighter and more pronounced acidity, which enhances the fruitiness of the cup.

Body and Mouthfeel:
Assess the body and mouthfeel of the coffee. Natural processed coffees often have a heavier body, providing a fuller and more syrupy mouthfeel. Honey processed coffees can offer a lighter to medium body with a smooth and velvety texture.

Flavor Profile:
Pay close attention to the flavor profile of the coffee. Natural processed coffees can showcase distinct fruity notes such as berries, stone fruits, or tropical fruits. They may also exhibit earthy, chocolate, or spice undertones. Honey processed coffees can highlight fruit-forward flavors with nuances of caramel, honey, or molasses. Look for specific flavor characteristics that are unique to each processing method.

Cleanliness and Balance:
Evaluate the cleanliness and balance of the cup. Both natural and honey processed coffees should exhibit clean flavors without any off-notes or defects. Assess the overall balance between acidity, sweetness, and body. Look for a harmonious interplay of flavors that make the coffee enjoyable and well-rounded.

Aftertaste:
Consider the aftertaste and lingering flavors. Natural processed coffees may have a longer aftertaste with a lingering sweetness and fruitiness. Honey processed coffees can also offer a pleasant and extended finish, with the sweetness and fruitiness carrying through.

Consistency and Quality:
Lastly, consider the overall consistency and quality of the coffee. Evaluate factors such as uniformity, defects, and overall cup quality. Look for coffees that exhibit consistency in flavor and processing throughout the cupping session.

Conclusion

As the coffee industry continues to evolve, the choice between Natural and Honey processing methods becomes pivotal for coffee producers and consumers alike. Understanding the differences, benefits, and challenges associated with each method empowers stakeholders to make informed decisions regarding the flavor profiles they seek and the sustainability practices they prioritize. By exploring the unique characteristics of Natural processed coffee and Honey processed coffees, this article aims to contribute to a deeper appreciation of the diverse and rich world of coffee processing.