What is parchment coffee? Definition and Concept

Today we are going to enter a somewhat technical field. We’ll be talking about parchment coffee, a type or state of coffee that usually goes unnoticed by us, the end consumers.

To understand what parchment coffee is, we first have to know what the fruit of the coffee tree (the plant) looks like. As you can see in the image, the fruit of the coffee tree is a berry that is almost always red, which is why it is also called the coffee cherry, inside of which there are still two coffee beans wrapped in several layers.

Coffee cherries on the coffee tree

Well, if we take those berries, open them up and remove all the outer layers, just before we access the two beans inside, that which remains is the so-called parchment coffee. The parchment is simply another layer, yellow in colour, covering the bean with green coffee.

Definition of dry parchment coffee

Parchment coffee is defined as the product resulting from washing the fruit of the coffee tree and removing all outer layers (except the parchment) before drying.

As explained on our page on coffee moisture meters, the green coffee bean must have a moisture content of around 10% before it is roasted. The coffee has more than 50% moisture as soon as it is harvested, and therefore needs to go through the drying process.

A cut of a coffee fruit or berry, with two grains inside.

The number 4 corresponds to parchment coffee, and the number 3 to the coffee we usually know. The number 6 would be the mucilage.

The parchment coffee is then passed through a threshing (or hulling machine) that removes that layer – the parchment, numbered 4 in the diagram above – and results in the green coffee. But sometimes it is marketed directly.

Parchment coffee is, therefore, the stage of coffee immediately preceding green coffee (which is either roasted or marketed as such). In other words: traditional green coffee, but with an extra layer that has not been removed.

Differences between parchment coffee, gold coffee and honey-bean coffee

Once we open the coffee cherries, various methods can be used to remove the pulp. These methods can be divided into two primary groups: wet and dry coffee processing.

If we process them dry, the result is always the traditional green coffee, as the beans are dried naturally and then ground or husked to remove all layers at once.

However, if we process them wet, we can arrive at several different techniques or steps, each of which produces a result.

The resulting clean bean at this point receives a specific name (parchment coffee, gold coffee or honey grain coffee) depending on the method we have used to remove those husks:

  • The coffee from the honey process retains the mucilage, which is a slightly viscous intermediate layer (that’s where the honey comes from, which has nothing to do with the taste of the bean) that is removed with the subsequent washing. It is a bean that is dried, but not washed. It’s a much riskier, slower and more expensive process, which is why honey-bean coffee is much less common on the market.
  • If we wash it (which is nothing more than letting the bean rest in water for 1 or 2 days to release the paste), the bean is left to rest for 3 or 4 weeks in its parchment. The result at this point is parchment coffee.
  • Finally, if we grind or peel the parchment coffee to remove this last layer, we have. As a result, the golden or green coffee, which is the most common state of the bean.
The parchment has a golden yellow colour.

What is the purpose of wet parchment coffee?

Some coffee growers market wet parchment coffee directly, without going through the drying process. This practice can be motivated by various causes:

  • They cannot assume the cost (space and machinery) of having a drying process in their plantation.
  • They have more production capacity than dryers, so that the surplus parchment coffee (without drying) is quickly marketed so that it does not go wrong.

The problem is that such a degree of humidity makes the coffee very fragile, because it facilitates the formation of microorganisms that can alter the original conditions and the quality of the coffee. Wet parchment coffee must, therefore, be transported within a few hours of being washed and under rigorous hygiene conditions.

How to store parchment coffee?

Usually, parchment coffee is stored for several weeks, in sacks or plastic bags (very convenient to avoid humidity and gas entry). It should never be stored in a humid place or where it is directly exposed to sunlight. The containers of parchment coffee beans cannot be placed in contact with the floor or walls either.

How to roast parchment coffee?

The parchment coffee bean can be roasted similarly as standard green coffee beans.

We suggest that you read our roasting guide as well as the domestic coffee roasters, for further information on this subject.

Where can I buy parchment coffee?

The usual production of coffee is limited to the standard process, which includes the final phase of threshing or grinding to remove the parchment. So parchment coffee is a much more specific product, not usually found in the usual distribution channels.

Who buys parchment coffee? Usually very demanding end-consumer profiles, eager to try new things and different nuances from those they already know. For example, if you are looking to buy parchment coffee on Amazon, we have only found these references so far:

If you have the opportunity, another way to buy parchment coffee is to go directly to the producers or farmers, at origin. Something quite complicated from many European Countries, but that you will have more accessible if you live in Latin America or Asia.