Coffee Processing

09/09/2020

       Welcome back for the next installment of our From Farm to Cup blog series! Next up on our coffee conversation queue is talking about coffee processing. To summarize, up to this point, we learned that coffee is actually the bean inside the cherry of a plant. The cherry, after growing to its full size and red ripeness, is then hand-picked to go and be processed. 

       Right after the coffee cherries are picked, they are taken to a processing mill to usually separate the outside layer of the cherry from the beans inside. Once the mucilage has been stripped from the beans, they will be laid out in the hot sun to be dried. There many types of processes that the beans can be dried by and all of them can affect the quality of the cup of coffee. The different processes vary in equipment, time, and resources. Since the processing of coffee can affect flavor, it is important to know about processing as a buyer and drinker of coffee. While there are many types of processing, I am going to focus on the main three: Natural Process, Washed Process, and the Honey-Washed Process. 

       The first process we will talk about is the Natural Process. The Natural Process is the first method used to process coffee and now considered the process used for cheaper coffees. This process takes place by picking the cherries, and then letting the cherries dry in the sun on either raised beds or patios. Workers use giant rakes to constantly turn over the beans, so that the beans can dry properly. This process adds flavor by drying in the sun , since all the cherry is intact during the drying phase. It can generally bring out notes of stone fruit and berries, but also has some negative notes like manure. 

       Next we have the Washed Process. The Washed Process is a cleaner process than the Natural Process and can take longer. The beans are then pre-cleaned, placed in flotation tanks to discover the cherry density, and then de-pulped. De-pulping includes having all the mucilage removed before it is dried and then it is washed in a water tank that washes off the rest of the mucilage flesh by fermentation. Usually, the water is hot, so that the fermentation stage goes by faster. After this step is done, the coffee is dried like the natural process or by electric dryers. This process is usually more desirable by specialty coffee shops as the process increases the flavors of the cup because it is more acidic. 

       The last process is the Honey-Washed Process. The Honey Washed Process does not actually use honey, despite that being implied by its name. In this process, they go through the Washed Process of pre-cleaning, flotation, and de-pulping. However, the beans in this process are mechanically stripped of their mucilage, so that there is remaining mucilage left on the coffee beans for when they dry. Because of this process, the coffee can generally have some light honey and sugar notes when brewed. Honey washed coffees have become more popular recently and are usually a little sweeter. 

      Processing is perhaps the longest and most complicated step for coffee to take to come From Farm to Cup in your own home! However it is incredibly essential and there is even quite a unique variety in how to process coffee. Next week, we will look at a few different factors before coffee is traded across the world!

◊ Written by Andrew Watson, Manager at Ntaba Mellwood, v60 lover, and Interstellar‘s #1 fan

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 – Hoffman, James. “The World Atlas of Coffee.” Octopus Books, 10.4.2018.

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