In recent years, we have been watching coffee producers all over the world as they experiment with different kinds of processing. We are talking about what happens after the cherry is harvested and before the dried raw coffee beans are exported to us. How processors treat these seeds often adds a lot of difference to the coffee’s characteristics in the cup. The what and why behind this is fairly interesting.
A few decades back, coffee was either washed process (as in classic Africa, Colombia and Central America), natural/dry process (Brazil, Yemen and some Ethiopian) or Giling Basah wet-hulled (Indonesia). Recently, water shortages related to climate change have caused some of the traditionally wet/washed process producers to experiment with natural processing or a quasi-natural process called “miel” (honey) processing to conserve water and to create new taste profiles. In the future, look for more natural, dry, or miel processed coffees to be produced in all the traditional wet-processed origins. For example, the producer of our Jamaica Blue Mountain cultivar Island Blend coffee is turning out increasing amounts of miel coffee as reflects lessening availability of good quantities of clean water for processing. This is a stark contrast to decades of its signature wet processing.
In honey processing, honey isn’t used. It’s more that the time spent with the cherry in contact with the seed before hulling and drying imparts a thicker, heavier mouth feel, as honey is heavier, more syrupy consistency than water, I suppose. The taste profile, which is usually quite clean (a few flavors that are clear and distinct), is also more complex (more flavors but they tend to be less distinct). Miel processing comes in “black honey” as well as regular “red” and “summer” honey, meaning there is a continuum of the effect related to how long the coffee stays in contact with the cherry before it’s removed. The black honey variety has had the most time sitting in the heat and sunlight in the coffee cherry fruit, so it tends to be the most viscous and complex-tasting. The lightest summer honey processing is much more like the cleanliness of the washed profile.
Our Natural-process Costa Rica offering is closer to a red-honey (miel roja) profile. It’s really tasty at a lighter-medium roast, a classic Costa Rica with a little fruit note. See it here.
Enjoy your coffee!