With coffee being the third most-traded commodity worldwide, it’s evident that many people love and enjoy drinking it.
However, have you ever wondered how coffee is processed from cherries to the beans we grind for espresso?
And how the processing methodology used affects its final taste/flavor?
Well, don’t sweat it. You are not alone.
Nowadays, most coffee bags often indicate the processing method employed. And while that may seem like trivial information, these techniques greatly affect the quality of the beans.
Hence, the reason why it’s important to know.
Today, I’ll walk you through the three main coffee processing methods in [currentyear] and their resulting final tastes.
Let’s get to it…
Table of Contents
For starters, coffee processing entails the extraction of coffee beans from their cherries.
Think of it this way:
To get baking flour for cakes, we have to process wheat grains. Or, even better, to get Sunflower cooking oil, we have to process sunflower seeds.
The same is true for your favorite coffee drink.
Naturally, coffee grows in the form of cherries. When ripe, these fruits are harvested and processed in a number of ways to produce coffee beans.
The coffee beans are roasted and ground into the dark-brown powder you’re more accustomed to when prepping your morning coffee or espresso.
Aside from making coffee more consumable, processing techniques also affect the final nature of the product.
Basically, each processing method gives different flavors, acidity levels, and taste profiles. And they all need a specific amount of time to execute.
Aside from user preference, factors like the type of coffee, geographical area, climate, and available resources can also determine the method of processing.
How does coffee go from cherries to beans? And how does the processing method affect the taste and flavor profiles of the resulting coffee beans?
Find answers to these questions below…
|Processing Time||3-6 Weeks|
|Taste Profile||Deep, Complex, Juicy, and Sweet|
Of all the techniques discussed here, the Natural processing or dry processing is the oldest. In other words, it was the first method ever used for coffee processing.
Natural processing involves sun-drying clean and ripe coffee cherries for 3 to 6 weeks.
During the drying period, the cherries tend to ferment; thus, making them succeptible to mold formation. That’s why frequent rotation, sorting, and monitoring is necessary.
However, on the plus side, long-term contact with the fruit pulp improves overall flavor; hence, giving the beans a complex and juicier taste profile.
More so, this process lowers the acidity of the resulting coffee beans.
Natural Method Procedure
1. Preparation – After harvesting and Sorting, the ripe and healthy coffee cherries are spread out on raised mats or drying beds under the sun.
2. Drying, Rotation, and Further Sorting – Frequent turning and rotations are done to ensure there’s uniform drying while also keeping mold and mildew at bay. This takes about 3 to 6 weeks.
3. Hulling then Sorting – Once the cherries are sufficiently dry, they are passed through a hulling machine that easily separates the fruit from the beans. The resulting green coffee beans go through a final sorting round to remove any impurities or defective beans before final packaging and shipment.
- Deep, authentic flavors
- Little water requirements
- Low acidity
- Simple, low-cost method
- Labor intensive
- Takes a lot of time
|Processing Time||1-2 Weeks|
|Taste Profile||Original, Tangy, and Acidic|
Unlike the natural method, Washed (or Wet) processing offers a faster solution. Plus, it’s the second-most popular coffee processing method there is.
The methodology is a bit different and quicker.
First, ripe cherries are picked, washed, sorted, and then depulped before drying. Depulping is simply separating the fruit from the seed using a machine (a depulper).
Note that freshly depulped coffee beans usually have a sticky, thin outer layer known as mucilage.
The beans are placed in a fermentation tank for up to 36 hours to loosen the mucilage. Once that’s done, the mucilage is washed off in two to three rinses; leaving wet, unsorted beans.
Then, sorting is done and the beans are spread out in a temperature-controled setting for drying.
Much like the natural process, bean rotation and turning is necessary to prevent mildew formation while promoting uniform drying.
And since the beans are immediately separated from the fruit, the resulting flavor is often neat, tangy, and original.
Also, since the seeds tend to be lighter, they’re more acidic.
Wet or Washed Method Procedure
1. Preparation – Harvesting, sorting, and cleaning coffee cherries.
2. Depulping – Involves separating the fresh fruits from their seeds/beans.
3. Fermentation and Washing – Here, the mucilage-coated beans are left in a fermentation tank for eight to 36 hours. Once the mucilage loosens up, rinsing severally helps to completely separate it from the beans.
4. Final Sorting and Drying – After mucilage removal, the beans undergo another round of sorting to remove any defective or low quality ones. Then, the good beans are spread out and sun-dried or placed in a temperature-controled environment for drying. Remember, frequent rotations and turning is paramount.
- Sharp, original coffee bean flavors
- Quick processing method
- Organic waste can be converted into manure
- Ideal for places that don’t get many sunny days
- Results in a lot of pollutant wastewater
- Requires expensive machinery and infrastructure
3. Honey Processing Method
|Processing Time||2-3 Weeks|
|Taste Profile||Original, Juicy, and Sweet|
The Honey Processing or Semi-Dry or Hybrid method is still relatively new; hence, not so common.
It’s dubbed the “hybrid method” because it borrows procedural steps from both the Natural and Washed coffee processing techniques.
Well, much like Wet Processing, the honey method involves removing the outer skin and pulp from the cherries; aka depulping.
However, the mucilage-covered beans are then dried for two to three weeks before the parchment (dry mucilage) is hulled.
In doing so…
The coffee beans develop a richer, juicier, sweeter, and more complex taste profile (like in the natural process) but with balanced acidity.
More so, this process takes longer than the Washed Method, but the duration is shorter compared to Dry processing.
Honey Processing Method Procedure
1. Preparation – Involves harvesting, cleaning, and sorting of ripe coffee cherries.
2. Depulping – Here, the coffee cherries are stripped of their outer skin and pulp and left with a layer of mucilage on them.
3. Drying and Rotation – After depulting, the mucilage-coated beans are spread on drying beds for about two to three weeks. During this period, bean rotation and turning is necessary to prevent over-fermentation, bacteria formation, or mold. Plus, it facilitates uniform drying.
4. Hulling and Final Sorting – When the coffee beans are optimally dry (about 11% moisture content), hulling is done to remove their dry mucilage layer (parchment). Then final sorting is done before packaging and shipping the beans.
- Nice, balanced, juicy, and complex flavors
- Relatively quick processing method
- Balanced acidity
- Doesn’t require a lot of water like the washed method
- Highly susceptible to mold and bacteria
- Not so popular because it’s still relatively new
Which method is your favorite?
Well, that will depend on your taste palette and preferences. And now you’ll be able to tell how your coffee will taste based on the processing method indicated.
Note that these methods apply to all types of coffee beans.
Although coffee processing can be confusing (especially, for newbies), I hope that this article offers you new insight into how coffee gets from the tree to the bag.
Plus, how each processing method impacts the final flavor.
Do you have any questions or thoughts you’d like to add? Well, feel free to say something in the comments section below.
I’d love to hear from you.
Washing (Wet) method, the Natural (Dry) method, and the Honey (Hybrid or Semi-Dry) processing method.
As discussed above, the three main coffee processing methods are the washing method, the natural method, and the honey processing method.
The Natural Processing method. It’s cost effective, eco-friendly and less wasteful. Plus, the resulting beans are enriched with sweet, complex flavors. However, the best processing method will also depend on taste preferences, climate, expediency, and processing infrastructure.
You can use the washing method where hulling and washing is done before drying. Or the natural method where drying comes first followed by hulling. Or, lastly, the honey processing method that borrows processing steps from the other two by partially hulling the coffee beans before drying them.