What does the word "processing"
mean in our coffee bags - Part 1
by Mattia Conte - Head Roaster/Coffee Manager
Coffee Processing Methods
Very often when buying or drinking a good cup of coffee, we come across (mainly) three very important words: Washed, Natural and Honey.
But what do they mean? And how do they affect the taste? Let’s try to explain it and understand a bit more about them, so to be more accurate when choosing what to drink or buy!
First of all, processing means removing the fruit pulp from the inner bean, so to be able to dry it and then shipped to the roasteries around the world, but it’s not so simple as it might sound, because every region or actually even farm can or has to use a specific processing method according to the farm itself, the machinery, the water supply, the weather.
That’s why actually some countries are known for their washed coffees or natural coffees, because it’s in what they can succeed the best. But now let’s get more specific!
Washed (or wet) process.
In this method, all the fruit flesh is removed mechanically from the bean before it goes to the drying phase. Right after the coffee cherries pass through a depulper, the beans are left in a fermentation tank for some hours where the remaining part of the pulp is finally removed.
Fermentation time depends on the altitude and climate of the farm or the washing station, usually goes between a period of 24-72hrs and it’s always controlled to avoid the creation of unpleased flavours.
After the fermentation, the beans are now washed again and they are ready to dry.
Drying, can be done mechanically (in places with not enough sun or too much humidity) or left to dry in the sun in the concrete patios or on raised beds.
Natural (or dry) process.
The oldest processing method, it has its roots in Ethiopia originally, and used all across the countries with limited access to water. The cherries are picked, sorted, and left to dry in patios or raised beds. During this slow drying process, are moved and turned frequently to ensure a even drying and avoic the creation of mold. Once the fruit is completely dry, the dried coffee cherries pass thorugh a huller to remove the skin and extract the final green beans, that are then rested and stored.
Honey (Pulped Natural) process
An hybrid between the two described above, used very often in Central America.
The coffee cherries pass through a depulper, like in the washed, but not all the fruit pulp is removed, in this way farmers are able to decide the amount of natural sugars to be attached on the bean (depending on the buyers preference or to enhance some particular flavours).
The beans now they do not pass through fermentation, but they go straight away into drying phase, as for the other methods. The cherries they start to slowly caramelize, they become golden and sticky like honey (that’s where the name of the process comes from). Depending on the amount of pulp left, the cherries get a darker or lighter colour, and tha’ts also why we have a difference between black, red, yellow or white honey.