December 1, 2015

Honey vs Natural Micro-Lot Coffee: 3 Ways to Avoid Water Pollution


What if I told you that in the coffee world, water causes immense damage? Yes, water.

It sounds crazy, right? But massive amounts of water are frequently used to wash coffee after it’s been picked and fermented and that water then becomes polluted with excessive amounts of acidic nutrients. The run-off from this process often ends up contaminating water supplies for people and animals alike.

Spanish Version: Microlote de Café Honey vs Natural: 3 Formas de Evitar la Contaminación del Agua

The good news is that you don’t need to swear off coffee to prevent this water pollution from happening – thank God! Instead, take one of these three steps to ensure your coffee is produced in a water-friendly farming process.

1. Keep Your Coffee Natural

Natural processing is the most water-friendly you can get: it just doesn’t use any water. Coffee cherries are put out on raised beds for sun-drying immediately after being picked, meaning the washing stage can be skipped altogether.

Natural processed coffee drying in african beds

Gold Mountain Coffee Growers’ natural processed coffee is produced without water. Credit: @goldmtncoffee

However, there are downsides to natural processing, the main one being that it takes great skill and a lot of labor to produce quality coffees in this way. The cherries must be picked at the perfect level of ripeness; placed in the sun straight away, before they begin to ferment; and kept moving for a whole month to ensure they dry evenly, without mold, and with as little fermentation as possible.

And on top of that, not all coffee drinkers enjoy natural processed coffee – and not all origin conditions are conducive to producing it. It’s a lot of effort for a coffee that may not be that appreciated.

2. Choose The Sweet Taste of Honey

So if natural isn’t your thing, opt for honey processed coffees. They’re not as water-friendly as natural processed coffees since the cherries are put in wet mills before the beans are removed. However, the  honey process still uses less water than washed processing does as, once again, the washing stage is skipped.

Honey processing is not an easy or forgiving process. Like with natural processing, the beans need to be perfectly ripe and, during the drying stages, should be constantly moved around to ensure that they don’t ferment. Mess that up and you’ll have a sour, defect-ridden coffee. However, do it correctly and it can taste like someone has poured honey in your coffee.

honey processed coffee mucilage

Honey processing results in less water pollution AND can create a beautiful profile. Credit: Zachary Latimore

On Gold Mountain Coffee Growers’ farm (Finca Idealista), we’ve cut our water use by more than 50% through increasing the percentage of our harvest that we prepare as natural- and honey-process coffee. By avoiding washed processed coffees, you can contribute to a more eco-friendly coffee world.

Yet what if you just really love washed processing? Or if this less labor-intensive production is just more suited to your farm?

SEE ALSO: How Can We Minimise Waste in the Coffee Industry?

3. Think Equipment

Even if you do opt for washed processing, that doesn’t mean you can’t decrease the amount of water pollution caused.

Closed-filtration systems are a great way to clean polluted water. On Finca Idealista, we haven’t cut washed processing out altogether; instead, we’ve built a system that consists of multiple volcanic-material filters. After the water has been used to wash coffee it goes through these filters, which then remove most of the mucilage (the sweet, sticky layer of the coffee cherry that sits around each coffee bean). And then after the water has been through the filters, it sits in an oxidation area; here, bacteria eat any remaining acidity or mucilage that made it through the filters. Hello, clean water!

Of course, installing a closed-filtration system doesn’t come cheap. Yet farmers who can’t afford filters can still create oxidation areas. Digging a hole in which the oxidation of mucilage in the water can occur will lead to less water pollution in nearby streams.

coffee farm water filter filtration system

Filters and oxidation areas help in the fight against water pollution. Credit: @goldmtncoffee

Even once farms have removed the pollutants from the water, there are still ways to be more water-friendly. A pump system can cut water use even further, by enabling the used water to be recycled for things such as floating coffee imperfections out of each day’s pickings.

In the specialty coffee world, we all want to have a positive effect on origin. Through supporting water-friendly farming practices, you’re helping to make coffee farming more sustainable and eco-friendly.

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Feature Photo Credit: Dennis Tang, Flickr.

Perfect Daily Grind.