Coffee Processing Methods
One of the long-standing problems with people buying and drinking coffee is the lack of contact between consumer and the people growing, processing and roasting the beans. Coffee is often grown in developing countries such as Africa and Central and Southern America. So there can often be a mental barrier between your morning cappuccino and the farmer whose livelihood is growing the coffee plant.
The long journey to your cup doesn’t end there, however. Many consumers don’t realise the manpower, complicated processing, shipping, roasting and packaging (the list goes on) that goes into creating great coffee. In the end, it all boils down to thirty seconds of espresso extraction! Here’s a rundown of the different processes that the coffee in your morning brew might have gone through.
What is a ‘washed process’ coffee?
There are two main ways that a coffee cherry, or fruit, eventually becomes the brown shrivelled bean we are used to seeing. Once the fruits have been picked, the sticky flesh remains coated on the inner seed. The most common method of separating the leftover fruit from the bean is called the ‘washed process’. It involves vigorously washing the fruit until it’s free of residue. The beans are then dried out and ready to be roasted. This often creates a cleaner tasting, brighter coffee, smoothing out any off-flavours.
What is a ‘natural process’ coffee?
Some coffees go through a much simpler ‘natural’ process, a procedure probably used since coffee beans where first cultivated. It involves laying out the coffee cherries on beds to dry in the hot sun. The beans are then slowly and naturally dried out, keeping much of the fruit’s natural sugars. This ultimately produces a sweeter, fruiter coffee with ‘funkier’ flavour profiles. Natural process coffees are often found across African countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda but also Central and South America. A place where the machinery and large quantities of water required for ‘washed’ coffees are less easy to come by.
Other processing methods, ‘Honey or Pulped Natural’ and ‘Wet hulled’ coffees.
Another, less well-known, processing methods exist and often sit somewhere between natural and washed process coffee beans. For example, the ‘pulped natural’ process has become synonymous with coffees from Brazil and is a hybrid technique taking the best of both methods detailed above. The beans are only partially de-pulped, leaving much of the fruit left intact on the bean itself and then put out on parchments to dry. In some places this is called ‘Honey’ process. This is because of the golden runny liquid that is produced during the semi-fermentation stage that these beans go through. Ultimately, it gives all the sweet and fruity notes of a natural processed coffee but retains an element of clean acidity and clarity usually gained from the typical washed process.
‘Wet-hulling’ is another unique processing method, mainly used in Indonesia. It follows a similar procedure to the washed process but, effectively, the drying stage is interrupted and the beans are hulled from the fruit before they are fully dried out. The beans then go through a secondary drying stage to develop a coffee very unique to the area. Sumatran coffees, for instance, often display deep spicy, chocolatey and woody tasting notes, making them great for espresso blends and interesting filter beans.