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Processing 101

POSTED. Jan 18, 2021

Image from Cafe Imports

If you have perused the world of specialty coffee, you have probably seen the term ‘processing’ or ‘process’. It is often one of the many descriptors roasters use when talking about a coffee’s origin blueprint, akin to region, varietal, or elevation. Processing is the way in which a coffee bean, the seed of the coffee cherry, is removed from the cherry itself.

For a long time there were two different processing methods that dominated the coffee industry, Washed (also known as ‘wet’) and Natural (also known as ‘dry). When a coffee is Washed, that means the entire coffee seed is removed from the coffee cherry and washed of any fruit material before it is dried. This requires the cherry to go through a depulping machine before it is soaked in fermentation tanks for up to three days. After soaking any remaining fruit matter is removed before it is laid out to dry on raised beds. Drying times vary based on the climate of the region. Washed coffees are common due to their higher yield and lower chance for defects such as insect damage and rot. These types of coffees usually have a lot of clarity and bright, discernable flavors.

Image from Cafe Imports

Natural processed coffees are also relatively common. When a coffee is processed using this method, the entire cherry is laid out to dry before the seeds are removed. Coffee that is processed this way often has very dominant sweet and fruity flavors like berries and jam. They are also known to have a noticeable “funkiness” due to the fermentation process. 

As agricultural practices continue to develop in coffee-producing countries, new processing methods have arisen. The most notable of these newer methods is the Honey process. A sort of hybridization of both Washed and Natural, Honey processed coffees are sent through a depulping machine to remove the skin of the cherry, leaving on some fruit matter or mucilage, before laid out to dry. This process uses far less water than Washed coffees but has a higher yield and more consistent flavor quality than Natural coffees. There are variations of Honey Processed coffees such as Black Honey, Red Honey, and Yellow Honey. This refers to how much of the mucilage is left on the coffees before drying.

Image from Cafe Imports

Understanding these different processing methods can help you pinpoint which coffees you enjoy most or are best suited for certain applications. We gravitate towards Washed coffees for their consistency and clarity, but also love to occasionally bring on Natural and Honey processed coffees to experience some more unconventional and exciting flavors.