The Ultimate Guide to Coffee Processing Methods
Welcome to our guide on processing methods for coffee beans. Processing methods have a huge impact on the way coffee tastes. Determining which method that you prefer will be completely up to you, as is the case with everything in the coffee world - that is part of the fun!
Processing methods allow for coffee beans to be separated from the coffee cherries in which they grow. Yes, people are generally surprised when we tell them that coffee beans are found within coffee cherries. However, coffee cherries need to have their silverskin, mucilage, parchment, and pulp removed to leave just the pure and beautiful coffee beans - what we really want.
Effectively, there are 2 main methods for processing coffee beans. These are the “washed” method, and the “unwashed” (or natural) method.
The washed coffee processing method is where the coffee cherry is processed/pulped by a machine.
These pulped coffee cherries are washed, which removes any undesirable bits and pieces like dirt and stones. This washing process also clears away parts of the coffee cherry itself, removing the pulp, mucilage and parchment - this leaves just the coffee beans.
This process of “washing” takes about 1-2 days, during this time the coffee beans ferment in the water with all the other parts of the coffee cherry. Fermentation allows the flavour notes of the coffee cherry mucilage to be maintained in the coffee beans.
After this process, the what remains (the coffee beans) is laid out in a field for around a month in order to dry.
Being the most common coffee processing method in the world, it is generally consented to that the “washed” method produces coffee beans of a higher calibre than coffee beans that are a result of the “unwashed” processing method.
The “washed” processing method for coffee beans is popular amongst the big producers of coffee, including Indonesia and Ethiopia (among other regions). Sometimes, this method is referred to as the “wet process”.
The unwashed coffee processing method is also known as the “natural” processing method, or the “dry” processing method. The unwashed processing method is much less complex than the “washed” processing method.
Coffee cherries are simply laid out in the field for a certain amount of time, be it around 10, 20, or 30 days. Coffee beans that result from this method have flavour profiles that are influenced strongly by fermentation of the coffee cherry itself, because the coffee bean bakes within the fermenting fruit of the coffee cherry for a much longer time when compared with the “washed” processing method. Remember, in this “unwashed” method, the whole coffee cherry is laid out in the fields. With the abovementioned “washed” method, it is only the coffee beans themselves that are laid out in the sun.
The acids and flavours of the cherries sit and ferment as a cocoon for the coffee beans. This acidic goodness seeps deep into the coffee beans, and are only released again when you brew these beans for your perfect cup of morning coffee.
The honey processing method for coffee adds an incredible amount of sweetness to your coffee - it is almost as if honey was added to your cup of coffee. It is also referred to as the “semi-washed” processing method. This beautiful flavour comes from how gooey and sticky the coffee beans get as a result of this process. This method is currently not that common, yet it is increasing in popularity.
Think of how the washed method involves removing all of the mucilage through the washing process. The honey processing method only removes part of the mucilage. This means that when the beans are left to dry in the fields, they continue to ferment in the mucilage of the coffee cherry
Still quite niche, this processing method by and large comes from Costa Rica and Central America more generally.