Coffee beans are the pit of a coffee cherry. The way that coffee cherries are processed determines the outcome of the coffee in your cup. There are many different coffee processing methods used in the specialty coffee industry. Farmers are constantly increasing their knowledge about, innovating their methods of, and experimenting with processing methods to improve the coffees they produce.
Below, we’ve laid out the three main coffee processing methods, and how these methods affect the coffee you drink.
Natural or unwashed coffees
The dry process is often referred to as “natural coffee” because of its simplicity, and because during this kind of process the fruit remains intact. The bean dries and naturally ferments in its skin and the mucilage (fruit pulp) of its cherry. This occurs under careful control over a time span of 25-35 days, depending on climate. Once dry, the pulp and skin are removed from the bean, and this is called dry milling.
Naturals tend to be relatively inconsistent due to a high risk of mold. With naturals, each bean has it’s own levels of sugars and alcohols, and these components affect the uniformity of the cup. When handled correctly, the natural process gives coffee beans a beautiful, fruity, and complex taste.
Wet Process or washed coffees
The traditional wet process starts when ripe coffee cherries arrive at the mill. The skin of the fruit is stripped off using a machine called a depulper. The remaining mucilage (sugars) are removed through fermentation in a clean tank. This can take anywhere from 12 to 48 hours. After fermentation, the beans are washed again to remove any remaining mucilage.
There are several methods used to dry the coffee beans. They can be laid on a patio, on raised beds (African method), or dried mechanically. A dry climate is essential to produce quality washed coffee. Washed coffees produce a very clear cup, with a bright acidity and liveliness. A real treat!
Honey hrocessed or honey coffees
With the honey process method the skin and pulp are removed, but some or all of the mucilage (sugars) remains. After the pulp is removed, the beans are dried quickly (10-15 days) and must be agitated frequently in order to prevent mold.
Depending on the amount of mucilage remaining on the bean, honey coffees can produce different levels of coloured parchment during drying. These levels are usually referred to as yellow, red, and black. The darker the colour, the more complex the cup of coffee. Honey coffees have some of the body and sweetness of naturals, but they also retain some of the acidity of washed coffees.
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