Have you ever been curious about the processing methods listed on your coffee packaging? From washing to natural, and honey-processed beans – there's a wide variety of techniques used for preparing the humble coffee bean before it reaches our cups. Roasting further enhances its flavour profile by unlocking hidden notes within each unique blend. No matter which brewing technique you choose, understanding the origin of that perfect cup starts with knowing how it was processed.
Coffee bags are often stamped with the processing method, so it's likely essential information. Figuring out how your coffee was produced will assist you in learning to identify the nuanced flavour and texture profiles of each roast. With some practice, quickly distinguishing one process from another becomes second nature - every preparation method yields coffee beans that bring unique and delectable flavours and feelings to your cup. So, let's dive into the depths of this piece to explore and uncover the different coffee processing methods and how they mould each bean into its unique flavour profiles.
Why Do We Need Coffee Processing Methods?
To comprehend the importance of coffee processing, it's important to understand how each coffee cherry is composed or in other words, “is coffee a fruit or a bean”. The outer layer consists of the skin, mucilage, pulp and pectin payer which are all removed in order to reach the inner bean. It must then be dried correctly for optimal results - however, there is more complexity behind this seemingly simple process.
Not many people realise that much of coffee's distinctive flavour is created by layers such as the juice, pulp and mucilage - not just from the beans themselves. This means it's essential to extract all this deliciousness into those little brunette morsels! If a farmer doesn't process the ripe coffee fruit correctly, then they could experience reduced value or even defects in their crop. This makes selecting an appropriate processing technique vital for any passionate coffee grower.
Types Of Coffee Processing Methods
Natural – Dry Process
Since Ethiopia, the natural coffee process - also known as dry processing - has been one of the most ancient methods for crafting a flavorful cup. Following harvest, farmers carefully spread out their freshly picked coffee cherries to be naturally processed by sunlight in individualized drying stations located around certain farms and regions.
To ensure that the cherries dry perfectly, some methods use a raised bed which encourages air circulation around them while others favour brick patios on the floor. Nevertheless, due to being exposed to outside elements, the cherries must be regularly turned so as to protect against moulding and fermentation.
Once the cherries are dried, they are mechanically stripped of their skin, pulp and flesh to reveal the green coffee beans inside. This treasure is then stored and left to rest before it is exported for further processing and packaging. This dry process method of making coffee beans is widely used in places where water resources are scarce due to its low investment costs but potentially high yields as long as environmental conditions don't change too drastically - allowing enough time for consistent drying of both fruit and seed altogether.
Washed – Wet Process
Washed coffee, also recognized as the wet coffee processing method, is a favoured technique for making an exquisite cup of joe. As opposed to other processes that focus on the outside layers such as pulp and juice to boost flavour, washed coffee concentrates on the actual bean itself for added flavour.
Dry processed coffee cherries are essential for achieving full-bodied flavour, while washed coffees rely solely on the bean's own natural elements for taste. To help this process along, a machine called a Depulper is used to eliminate any flesh from the seed before it gets dried out. Then, it's thrown into an aqua tank where fermentation disposes of whatever remaining pulp and skin there may be left behind. It is imperative that these steps occur in order to transfer all possible naturally-produced sugars and nutrients directly into the beans' core when they grow so as not to compromise on final product quality or flavour.
Fermenting the beans usually takes between 24 and 72 hours, depending on the region's climate. Warmer climates tend to require less fermenting time than colder areas. It is critical to accurately time this process since longer fermentation can damage the resulting coffee flavour. After the fermentation cycle comes to a close, it's time for some essential cleansing. The coffee beans are washed in order to remove any remaining residue from their surfaces - and voila! They're ready to be dried. Drying takes place through either raised tables or brick floors; its purpose is essentially the same as that of natural drying methods.
In areas that have too much moisture or limited exposure to sunlight, mechanical drying is necessary for the coffee bean. Washed coffee requires a large amount of water which makes it costly for farmers to produce; however, this technique allows them to play an essential role in creating a distinctive taste and flavour profile. This procedure necessitates great dexterity from these producers who are ultimately responsible for crafting superb final products.
Honey–Pulped Natural Process
Despite its name, the honey processing technique requires no actual honey. It is derived from how syrupy the beans become during handling. This method serves as a compromise between natural and washed processing: cherries are de-pulped but machines leave some amount of flesh on them, which then settle out over drying tables or patios with less risk for excessively fermented results than one would see in other processes due to reduced pulp and skin coverage.
The honey method yields a cup of coffee with an intricate taste and texture, as well as sweet complexity and round acidity—more so than its washed-process counterpart. Central American countries such as Costa Rica and El Salvador have long embraced the natural honey process for producing delicious brews.
Crafting the perfect honey involves precise science. Over time, multiple categories – yellow, red, golden and white varieties - have come to market with uniquely tuned recipes that adjust how much flesh remains on the bean for optimal sweetness. Generally speaking, more tissue left on the bean produces a fruitier flavour profile.
How Do Farmers Determine the Optimal Coffee Processing Methods?
It's understandable that farmers seek to create the most flavorful coffee while still being profitable in their business endeavours. Yet, which method they use for processing is heavily determined by their environment. Coffee isn't like other plant-based products—it relies on its surrounding conditions and climate in order to truly thrive.
Oftentimes, farmers don't make the decision on how to process their coffee until they assess the amount of rainfall during that specific season. Depending on this evaluation, they may opt for natural, washed, or honey-processed coffee beans.
For instance, the wet weather makes it incredibly hard for farmers to process their coffee using the dry method since rain can cause cherries to split. However, if there has been hardly any precipitation and conditions are mild, this is ideal for harvesting with natural or honey processing because doing so avoids sugar loss that may occur in rainy environments.
Other Lesser Known Coffee Processing Methods
There are three main, widely-used preparation methods for processing coffee beans: wet, dry and honey. Nonetheless, a few farmers practice alternative approaches to the process in certain areas; though they may be lesser known and used on smaller scales.
The Indonesian term Giling Basah translates to "wet-hulled", an approach that resembles the wet method, but with a twist. To proceed, coffee beans are dried out until they reach 30-35% moisture content before their protective parchment layer is stripped away. Afterwards, these “naked” beans must be spread and left to dry yet again until fit for storage.
The Anaerobic coffee method has become increasingly popular in the specialty coffee industry due to its fermentation-based process. The Anaerobic technique is virtually identical to the conventional washed method except that it takes place within a hermetically sealed, oxygen-free tank. This ensures that all of the beans' flavours and aromas remain intact during roasting for an incredibly balanced cup every time!
Carbonic Maceration is comparable to Anaerobic, with a distinct similarity to winemaking. The extraordinary factor of this process compared to Anaerobic is that the coffee bean cherries are fermented while still intact. This fermentation disintegrates the cell walls from the inside out and transfers alluring flavours into the beans such as red wine, banana, whisky, and even bubblegum– making for an out-of-this-world tasting experience!
Now that you are familiar with the many coffee processing methods, why not sample some of those delicious beans in your morning cup? You can buy coffee online or check out a local grocery store to find what's available. Our recommendation is Easy Cold Brew Coffee—a medium roast blend crafted for its balanced and smooth taste—making it ideal for enjoying at home. Don't forget to try something new today!