If you’ve received a bag of Bean Voyage coffee, it probably included a story card like this:
At the bottom, you can notice a few technical information, including flavor notes, variety, location, height and name of the farmer. But, when you purchase your coffee, you are buying it based on the process. For many, this has been confusing. We’ve heard you — and soon we’re going to make the entire process a lot easier for you. But, in the meantime, we wanted to use this opportunity to tell you more about the difference between Variety and Process in the coffee industry.
Let’s start with the basics — Arabica vs. Robusta
These are the terms you hear most often. Arabica and Robusta are different species of coffee. Kind of like, dogs and cats. 3/4 of the world is Arabica and 1/4 is Robusta. Although Arabica produces superior quality coffee, it is also more sensitive to rusts.
SCAA defines Varieties as “ A variety retains most of the characteristics of the species, but differs in some way”. In simple words, variety is what we know in the wine industry as the difference between a Sauvignon blanc and Pinot Noir.
Within Arabica, some varieties are Caturra, Catuai, Yellow Bourbon, and within Robusta, it is C. c. robusta and C. c. nganda.
The processing part of coffee occurs after it has been picked during the harvest season. There are three main processing methods — washed, honey and natural. Although the process may differ based on the country (Kopi Luwak from Indonesia), these are the main processes used across the world.
Big differences between the three:
- Washed Process: In this process, all of the outer layer covering the beans is removed before drying. As a result, it is the best method to reflect the characteristics of the coffee bean itself. This process is least sustainable as it requires large quantities of water. As Perfect Daily Grind notes, “They [washed coffee]let you taste what’s on the inside, not the outside”. General flavor notes: Almond, vanilla, clean, bright, creamy body, balanced sweetness
- Honey Process: This process is a middle ground between a washed and natural coffee. It consists of “the body and sweetness of a natural while retaining some of the acidity of a washed. Honey coffees often have a syrupy body with enhanced sweetness, round acidity and earthy undertones. General flavor notes: Fruity, complex, balanced acidity, creamy body.
- Natural Process: The natural process involves drying the coffee in its fruit form for about three weeks. It tends to taste more fruity and is also the most eco-friendly process. General flavor notes: Chocolate, Fruity, complex body and balanced sweetness
Over the past few years, farmers have experimented with different processing methods. Although we hear very little about coffee processing, it’s important to understand the difference and its offering because different process makes a difference in aroma and flavor. If you haven’t already, try out each of these varieties on our site — currently we’re offering the Natural and Honey process, but will be re-launching other processes and a few new varieties soon!
Bean Voyage is a non profit that provides training and market access to female coffee producers in Costa Rica so they can produce specialty coffee, earn better income and lead sustainable lives.
- Crash course on varieties: https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2017/08/geisha-vs-bourbon-crash-course-coffee-varieties/
- Washed, Natural and Honey Coffee Processing: https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2016/07/washed-natural-honey-coffee-processing-101/
- Coffee Varietals: http://www.cafeculture.com/businessinsights/coffee-varietals