The washed process involves completely removing both the cherry and the mucilage from the outside of the parchment with the use of friction, fermentation and water. After being harvested, the coffee cherry is then sliced open by either a metal or a sharp plastic blade. The two seeds (also known as beans) are pushed out of the cherry, which leaves the seed with mucilage as their outermost layer. It is essential in the washed process that all mucilage is removed from the seed which leaves only the flavor that developed in the cell structure of the seed prior to processing.
With the honey process a certain amount of mucilage and pulp are allowed to remain on the coffee bean during depulping. The cover will stay with the bean during fermentation and drying thereby contributing to the sugars absorbed by the bean and affecting the flavour notes of the final cup. The amount of mucilage remaining defines the type of honey process - white, yellow, red or black in ascending order of mucilage concentration. If they are processed properly, the coffees can take on quite a lot of sweetness and flavours while remaining clean.
Raised drying beds (sometimes referred to as African drying beds) are often preferable when working with honey processed coffees, because of the additional airflow they allow. The air ensures that the beans dry evenly and reduces the incidence of fungi and bacteria formation. On the other hand, some farmers are accustomed to using sun-exposed patio drying that require a regular raking of beans to avoid moulds. While total fermentation and drying time depend on such choices as well as ambient temperature and moisture levels, red honey processing easily needs two weeks from depulping until drying has completed.
Natural processing is the original manner in which all coffee was previously processed. The cherries are dried with the seeds (also known as beans) inside, like drying a grape into a raisin. The seeds are dried with all of their layers intact, including the coffee cherry and mucilage. The coffee cherry and mucilage are composed of sugars and alcohols, which play a role in the sweetness, acidity and overall flavour profile of the coffee. The fruit is a closed environment, which encourages natural fermentation – helping create the final flavour profile. The fruit dries onto the parchment that surrounds the seeds.
This process attempts to achieve a higher concentration of lactic acid bacteria during fermentation, by focusing on anaerobic methods. The lactic acid bacteria produced is a result of the mucilage’s carbohydrate fermentation, which in turn contributes to the organoleptic profile of the resulting cup. The intended profile is an intense, very sweet, chocolaty and buttery coffee with winey acidity and a velvety body that results from the higher lactic acid content present in the cup.