The Harvested coffee undergoes a processing method that removes the beans from the fruit. There are several different techniques, all of which impact the final flavor of the bean! Three of the most common processing methods are the washed process, the natural process, and the honey or semi-dry process. In knowing the basics of the processing process, you’ll begin to determine more specifically, which coffees you’re sure to enjoy!
Bean focused washed coffees have a higher acidity. These coffees depend on whether or not the bean has absorbed enough sugars and nutrients during the growth cycle. In this processing method, the country of origin and environmental conditions play a huge role in adding to the flavor of the coffee because the washing process can highlight the true character of a single origin bean; and, as a result, many specialty coffees are washed. As the most consistent, reliable method, washed coffees have less risk of mold, over fermentation, and rot. Additionally, here are two ways wet processing can be done: machine-assisted wet processing and the ferment and wash method.
The ferment and wash method includes first, send the picked coffee through a pulping machine. The pulper removes the outer skin. Next, farmers soak these pulp covered seeds in water. They also agitate them to encourage the pulp (mucilage) to fall off. After that, the fermentation process begins. Seeds sit in water for some time – between a few hours and a few days – in order to break down the mucilage. Then, Farmers rinse and dry the beans. In the machine-assisted, the cherries are mechanically scrubbed until they break apart and the coffee beans are released. Washed coffees are floral, citrusy, and clean. They hold a more classic flavor profile
The natural processing method has many variations of this method, which makes it very challenging to master. This varied process causes a range of flavors, which might result in beans roasting unevenly and more chaff. Unpredictable, this process often develops coffees that people seek out due to their fun, bright, exciting flavor profile. Typically, these coffees have lower acidity and thus a fuller body. Naturally processed coffees carry more complex, heavy, sweet flavors because they are dried within the cherry. Natural coffees are fruity in taste and aroma.
This process is more common in dry, arid regions with limited access to water and the drying process itself can take up to 4 weeks. First, farmers harvest ripe coffee cherries and set them out on raised beds to dry. Throughout this dry process, farmers rake the cherries regularly to ensure that they dry evenly. Next, harvesters use machines called pulpers to remove the fruit and finally give the beans a light rinse. This is a careful process. Overdrying causes too brittle coffee beans that yield little flavor. Too much water and the beans will be prone to bacteria and mold. The beans spoil if they are not raked enough.
Associated with Costa Rica and El Salvador, honey-processing yields coffee that tastes like honey and brown sugar. With a fruit-forward, creamy mouthfeel, this process can directly influence the taste of the coffee and is highly scientific. Honey-processed coffee has a more well-rounded acidity. The honey process is a newer technique. This process is a mixture of washed and natural processes. Once the outer coating of the cherries is removed, these beans are placed on beds for slow-drying. Some mucilage is left on the bean to give this coffee a sweet taste.
Throughout this drying process, the beans fall under three different classifications based on the amount of light exposure: yellow honey, red honey, and black honey. Yellow honey coffee has the most amount of light exposure and takes one week to dry. As such, it tastes closer to washed coffee. Farmers keep red honey coffee mostly in the shade and it takes a week to dry, which puts it mid-spectrum. Finally, black honey has the most amount of shelter from light and takes three weeks to dry, which sets it closer to natural processing.
Coffee processing methods determine the flavor and mouthfeel of the beans. There are endless variations of each process that allow the artistry of coffee farmers to shine! The more you learn about the different aspects of coffee, the more easily you’ll be able to determine what flavor profiles are sure to delight your tastebuds!