Natural, Honey and Washed Coffee Differences – Natural and honey processed coffees offer a sweeter profile and fuller body, but don’t try to roast them like wet processed lots. You will burn it or lose the quality you want to capture.
I had the opportunity to speak with Mark Michaelson, US Roaster and Roaster Champion in 2017 at the Onyx Coffee Lab, while on the Ally Coffee Champions Tour in Brazil.
It’s been a whirlwind journey through some of Brazil’s best specialty farms, and I even got to see Mark roast coffee from these farms in person while at Fazenda San Francisco.
And being in Brazil, a country known for its natural coffee and grounds, I just had to ask Mark for his advice on roasting natural and honey coffee. This is what he had to tell me.
Difference Between Fermented Natural, Honey, and Washed Coffee
The basic difference between natural and honey, and the washed one is how many cherries are left in the seeds before drying. Natural coffees are dried with whole fruit, honey and seeds crushed with the halves, and washed coffees with no coffee.
In turn, this leads to a sweeter, larger-bodied profile for naturals and some honeys (especially those that have a lot of cherries attached during drying) and a cleaner profile for washed coffee.
Carlos Juárez, a Master Roaster from Mexico, tells me that this is because there is a slow migration of sugar from the cherries towards the seeds during the drying stage.
Processing and roasting
Mark told me that, when roasting natural and honey, he roasts the beans more slowly to maintain that characteristic sweetness.
When the drying ends and the yellowing begins, he explains, the sugar really starts to caramelize the acids and proteins. By prolonging this moment, as well as the first crack, you can enhance aroma, sweetness and body.
“If the caramelization passes too quickly, a lot of the sweetness in the coffee is left behind because you don’t have a chance to caramelize the sugar,” he emphasizes.
For washed coffee, however, Mark roasts faster. He gave me an example of a washed Ethiopian, saying that a shorter roast time would preserve its acidity.
Controlling Developmental Level
Rate of Rise (RoR), which measures how quickly a roast develops, is therefore key for natural and honey coffees.
To keep RoR low, you must start with a lower charge temperature. For example, for a soft density natural lowland Brazilian coffee, Mark will start with a fill temperature 30% lower than a washed high coffee. “The amount of energy you put into your roast profile at the start of your roast will determine everything you do after that,” he says.
From there, Mark explains that there are two aspects to controlling RoR: heat and air. When the coffee starts to caramelize, it will lower the heat from 70% to 40-50% to help prolong this period.
Next, it will add air to create convection. “Convection also causes the roast to slow down, and causes the coffee to roast from the outside as well,” he tells me.
There are more than 800 aromatic compounds in coffee, and caramelizing too quickly can cloud some of them. “Adding more air and lowering the heat will help you have the entire spectrum,” Mark emphasizes.
But it’s more than just caramelization. During the first crack, your ore will go through an exothermic reaction and release heat (energy) in the form of steam and carbon dioxide. Adding air helps move it, preventing the smoky and bitter taste. Mark recommends finishing the roast by keeping everything stable after the first crack.
Natural, Honey, and Washed Fermentation Process
Mark reminds me that, while processing is important, there’s a lot more to profiling a roast. Take Brazilian naturals and Ethiopian naturals: even though the processing method is the same, they will probably require different roasting styles.
Since a natural Ethiopian would probably have grown at a higher altitude, Mark would have expected it to be denser and have more concentrated sugar. He could use a higher charging temperature and faster RoR.
But Brazil, which may be gentler, will require lower temperatures and slower RoR.
It’s important to consider all of the distinctive elements of your coffee – density, processing method, size, variety, flavor profile – as well as your customer’s tastes and the specifications of your roastery. Processing is only one piece of the puzzle.
However, processing is an important piece of the puzzle and understanding its impact can help you to get the most out of these sweet, bulky, sweet-smelling natural and honey coffees.
For Mark, the biggest challenge this coffee presents is making sure it goes slow enough, allowing the coffee to really thrive in the roast. Honeys and naturals require special attention and controlled RoR.
So take your time; Do not rush. There’s a lot to practice when baking natural and honey, so keep experimenting, keep watching, keep comparing results – and always open to trying something new.
Written by Angie Molina.
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