Coffee processing is the essential step that transforms the fruit of the coffee plant into the roasted beans we use to make our favorite drink.
There are three main methods of coffee processing, each with its own unique characteristics which ultimately determine the taste and flavour of the final product.
Highlighting the bean's natural flavours
The washed coffee process involves removing each layer of the coffee cherry before it's dried, with machines which are either manual or electric-powered.
The next stage is to remove the sweet, sticky mucilage that surrounds the bean by placing the coffee in fermentation tanks. After fermentation, the coffee is washed with clean water before being dried on patios, tables or raised beds.
Washed coffee is almost totally reliant on the inner bean having gained enough carbohydrates and flavour during its growth. This means that environmental factors such as climate and terroir, coupled with operational factors such as fermentation and drying, are fundamental in showcasing the coffee's true flavour.
Washed coffees are widely popular and often have a clean, crisp and medium-bodied profile.
The oldest and riskiest method
The natural coffee processing method is the world's oldest and riskiest process. It involves drying coffee cherries with the fruit and mucilage that surround the bean left intact. This means that the natural sugars, sweetness, and fruit flavours encased in the coffee cherry begin to ferment and merge with the bean during drying.
Once harvested, the coffee is sorted using flotation and winnowing techniques before being taken to a drying area. It's then placed on a surface, usually a patio, table, or raised African bed, and left to dry.
The next stage must be carefully managed to avoid over-fermentation, or the development of moulds. After an agreed amount of time, when the coffee reaches a set moisture level, all of the outer layers of the dried cherry are removed in one step by a de-pulper or hulling machine.
This method tends to create a very bright, vibrant, and intense cup, often with high sweetness and heavy body.
Honey/Pulped Natural Processing
The middle ground
Honey or pulped natural coffee processing are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably. These methods sit between washed and natural processing, often creating fruit-forward coffees with medium sweetness and body, showcasing attributes from both the washed and natural methods.
After the harvested coffee is pushed through a de-pulper, the coffee is moved directly to the drying area with the sticky mucilage left intact. Producers often experiment with leaving different amounts of mucilage on the coffee to achieve different cup profiles and colours – this relates to white, yellow, gold black, or red honey coffees.
Innovations in coffee farming
There is now more investment in farm-level practices than ever before. Producers are investing in new technologies and farming processes, expanding their research capabilities while keeping cup quality central to their approach. Experimental processing methods aim to create new and exciting flavour profiles, often by manipulating the coffee cherry's fermentation process.
One such experimental method is Anaerobic Fermentation, a relatively new and innovative process that involves fermenting coffee beans in an oxygen-free environment for better control, and therefore enhanced taste. Chemical changes alter the flavour and aroma of coffee, leading to unique, intense flavours that are different from those produced by other processing methods.
Understanding the main methods of coffee processing is essential in determining your coffee preferences. After all, knowing the flavour profiles and characteristics of each method will help you choose the perfect coffee for your taste.
Why not browse our current range of coffees, from all over the processing spectrum, and see what tickles your tastebuds?