You may not realize that when you’re sipping a delicious cup of Barbarossa coffee, you are tasting the end result of an intensive chain of events and labor. So what exactly goes into making coffee as we know it? There are several different coffee processing methods, each with their own techniques that can result in vastly different flavor profiles. We’ll explore them all in this blog.

What exactly is coffee processing?

To understand coffee processing, it is helpful to understand the parts of a coffee bean. The coffee beans you see are actually the roasted seeds of coffee “cherries”, inside of which contain mucilage (a sticky, sugary substance), parchment (a dry cellulose layer), and the “green” bean itself (an un-roasted bean). Coffee processing is simply the way the seed is removed from the cherry.

Why is coffee processing important?

Coffee processing has a tremendous influence on the final result you see in your cup. It affects the taste, sweetness, body, and acidity of the coffee itself. As mentioned before, each coffee processing method results in different flavors and different experiences. Now let’s get into the methods themselves.

  1. NATURAL PROCESS

Otherwise known as the “dry process”, natural coffee processing is the most traditional method. It originated in Ethiopia, and it works best in places with low humidity and infrequent rain. It involves drying out the entire freshly picked coffee cherry with the seed inside by placing them under the sun. The cherries will remain on raised beds for 3-6 weeks in order to ferment. As they ferment, the sugar and mucilage will attach to the inner seed, developing sweeter flavors. They are raked periodically to ensure they don’t mold. Once they have properly dried out, a machine will be used to separate the pulp and the seed. 

Naturally processed coffee is heavy-bodied, with deeper and more complex notes. They are also quite sweet as the mucilage is allowed to remain on the seed for quite some time. Our Burundi Coffee is naturally processed, and its sweet Jasmine Hibiscus notes are emphasized by the sun-drying method.

2. WASHED PROCESS

Also known as the “wet process”, this is the world’s most common coffee processing method. It was popularized in the 1950s when commercial processing equipment came about. First, coffee cherries are sorted carefully for density. Then, a de-pulper machine removes the seeds from the cherries and they are sent to water tanks to be washed. This washing process removes the mucilage on the seeds. Once they are washed, they’re dried in the sun on raised beds. 

The washed process is a faster, less labor-intensive process than the natural method. It results in a cleaner, crisper tasting cup of coffee. The coffee is also more light-bodied with a cleaner acidity. Our Colombian Supremo coffee is a washed process coffee, and it contains floral and nutty notes that can be easily distinguished.

3. WET HULLED PROCESS

Commonly referred to as the “semi-washed process”, this coffee processing method is relatively uncommon. It is used most often in Indonesia where humidity makes drying difficult. In this process, a de-pulping machine removes the seeds from the coffee cherries and they are then stored in plastic tanks and fermented. The mucilage that remains on the seeds is then hulled along with the parchment (the dry flakes that cover the bean), then they are laid out to dry.

This process results in an intense flavor with a very emphasized body and muted acidity. You can try this coffee for yourself with our Indonesian Sumatra single-origin beans.

4. HONEY PROCESSED

Honey processed coffees are much more rare as it is a demanding process. Honey processing is a combination of natural and washed processing methods. It is also referred to as the “pulped natural process”. In this process, the de-pulping machine removes the seed, but the mucilage is left on the seed while it dries in the sun. This gives the sweet mucilage time to absorb into the seed, providing more complex flavors.

There are varying levels of honey processed coffees you can find, all based on how long the mucilage is left out to oxidize. There are yellow, red, and black honey coffees, with yellow being the shortest amount of time left out and black being the longest. This method was popularized in Central America, and uses less water than other methods.

You can try our own Costa Rican Honey coffee, a black honey processed coffee, meaning it has deep and rich notes as well as hints of apricot, brown sugar, and citrus.

5. ANAEROBIC PROCESS

One of the most interesting new developments in coffee processing is the anaerobic processing technique. Anaerobic processing is when the coffee is fermented without oxygen. The beans are placed in sealed tanks that are pressurized from carbon dioxide build-up. Any remaining pressure and oxygen are then let out using release valves. 

Anaerobic processing can be done on natural, washed, or honey processed beans. It produces distinct acids that create unique flavor profiles. We have our own rare anaerobic beans you can try, our Costa Rican Cordillera de Fuego Anaerobic Coffee.

You can discover more of our unique coffees and the wide variety of processing methods we use on our website. Give them a try, and you just might find your new favorite coffee.

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