When coffee reaches you in its roasted form, it has gone through several phases. First, as a coffee cherry which is harvested and processed, then as a green coffee bean prepared for roasting. Processing refers to the steps taken to remove the fruit of the coffee cherry and to dry the seed (or bean) to prepare it for roasting. In today’s innovative world, there are numerous ways to process coffee including plenty of experimental methods. Today we’ll be focusing on the three main methods used to process coffee: Washed Process, Natural (or Dry) Process, and Honey Process.
Washed Process is the most common method. Freshly harvested coffee is sorted for ripeness and the fruit is removed within 24 hours of harvest so the seeds can be dried. The removal of the fruit layers is called depulping. Before the coffee is de-pulped, the cherries are rinsed and sometimes a producer will do a float test. This test checks to see if any cherries float in the water, which indicates a defect. If so, the floating cherries will be removed. After this initial sorting, the cherries go through a depulper, which removes the fruit from the seed. This usually happens within 8-12 hours of harvest. Depulping still leaves layers of mucilage, which are fruit fibers clinging to the seed.
After de-pulping, the de-pulping will usually go into a fermentation tank for 12-36 hours. All coffee processing methods have at least some fermentation, and the washing process makes this step more moderate than other methods. Fermentation will help soften the fruit mucilage stuck to the seeds so that it will be easier to remove when washed.
After fermentation, the washing begins. The seeds are submerged in fresh water and agitated. This process is repeated a couple of times until the mucilage is removed. Sometimes a producer will then sort the seeds again. After the final sort, the seeds are laid out to dry, often on tarps, with diffused sunlight. To ensure even drying, the coffee will be raked a couple of times per day. The goal is to dry the seeds to 11% moisture after which it is bagged and ready to be shipped to the roaster.
Washed process coffees typically have a “clean” flavor. Some say that the washing process allows you to better taste the flavor of the coffee, as washing doesn’t impart a lot of flavors to the coffee. In many of our washed coffees, we taste cane sugar, chocolate, and fruit acidity. Washed process coffee is common in Latin American and African countries, and less common in Indonesia.
Taste for Yourself
To try a washed coffee for yourself, check out our Ethiopia Washed.
NThe atural (or Dry) Process leaves the fruit on the seed for the duration of the drying process. After the cherries have dried, the fruit is removed. This is the oldest method of processing coffee and is more ecologically friendly, as it does not require water. The cherries are picked ripe, which is important since the fruit itself imparts flavor during this process. They are sorted and weighed before moving to the drying area. Often the drying process is on raised beds, which allows for airflow around the whole cherry. The fermentation process happens as the cherries dry and takes constant attention. It can take 3-4 weeks for the cherries to dry and for the seeds inside to reach 11% moisture. After the drying process, the coffee goes through a dry mill which removes the fruit and the parchment layer around the seed. After a final sorting, the coffee is bagged in burlap and ready to ship.
Natural coffees typically have a heavy fruit flavor, such as blueberries or strawberries. Sometimes the flavor is described as winey or boozy. The natural process is most common in Brazil, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.
Taste for Yourself
The Honey Process falls somewhere between the washed and natural processes. Like washed coffee, the fruit skin is removed within 24 hours of harvest. The mucilage is left on the seed to dry, which is reminiscent of the natural process in that part of the fruit fibers stays in contact with the seed during the drying process. Like the natural process, the honey process is also more ecologically friendly than the washed process as water is not required. The seeds can be dried in one of several ways including on a tarp on a patio under full sun or piled in a greenhouse for more concentrated fermentation before being raked to an even layer. The fermentation and drying processes take place over 3-4 weeks,depending on the weather and the discretion of the producers.
There are gradations of mucilage left on the seed during drying, and these levels are called white honey, yellow honey, red honey, and black honey. The flavor profiles range from the almost washed flavor of white honey to the deep fruity flavor of black honey. The final labeling is determined by the cupping profile. This processing method is common in Brazil and Costa Rica.
Taste for Yourself
Our current honey process coffee is Costa Rica
What’s your favorite coffee process? Are there any processes you’d like us to talk about in another post? Let us know in the comments!