If you have been wondering, “How is coffee processed?” Well, this article will provide an overview of the three primary methods that answer your question.
We get coffee beans from inside what is known as coffee cherries. Each cherry contains two seeds (or beans) in the center. After all the external layers get removed, these seeds are what remains. Since coffee cherries are technically a fruit, they need to be processed quickly after harvest to prevent spoilage.
The first step in all methods requires that the skin, pulp, and mucilage get removed. How this happens varies, and the result is a stark difference in the final flavor of the beans. Keep reading to see how the various processing methods differ.
Washed Coffee Processing
Coffee beans processed via the wet or washed method generally have the most consistent flavor. First, they are sorted and pulped. During the pulping stage, the skin and pulp get separated from the bean. The beans are then sorted again, this time by size, and fermented in large water-filled tanks. The fermentation stage takes anywhere from 12 to 48 hours. It is during this stage that the mucilage comes off.
After fermentation is complete, the beans get rinsed via channels filled with water. Then they are sent for drying by use of either traditional drying tables or modern mechanized tumblers. The beans must reach a specific stage of dryness to ensure proper storage.
Once these initial stages are complete, the coffee beans are left with the parchment and silver skin still attached. These both need to be removed before they can be packaged and sold as green beans.
Natural Coffee Processing
Natural coffee is the oldest method used for processing coffee. This method requires a lot of natural heat and is used in many hotter, drier climates. After harvest, the cherries get spread out on a large outdoor surface. To prevent any spoilage, workers manually rake and turn the cherries regularly. The natural processing method takes a significant amount of time, typically 4-6 weeks.
As the cherries dry, the layers naturally fall off. However, a portion of the mucilage will remain. The mucilage is where the fruity flavor is, so as a result, natural coffee has a more noticeable fruit flavor profile.
Honey Coffee Processing
The so-called honey method of processing is very popular in Central America currently. It is a combination of washed and natural processing. As with washed coffee, the beans undergoing a honey processing method have the skin and pulp removed. A key difference is that this pulping process only partially removes the outer layers. If there are pieces of pulp still attached, they are left on instead of being washed off before drying.
During the drying stage, these beans get laid out on drying racks, some of the pulp still attached to the mucilage. They get turned regularly, similar to the natural process, to prevent any spoilage. This combination of sticky pulp and mucilage imparts a sweet flavor to the coffee. The level of sweetness varies depending on how much pulp and mucilage are left on the beans before drying. You might be interested in our washed coffee vs. honey processed coffee guide.
Final Thoughts on How Coffee is Processed
With all processing methods, the beans must go through one final stage before being packaged and exported. First, they must go through a milling stage to remove any residual parchment. Additionally, workers remove any defective beans to ensure that only the highest-quality bean makes it onto the market. Depending on the producer, this can be done mechanically or by hand.
The final product sold to coffee roasters is known as green beans. Green beans get stored until they are ready to be roasted and turned into the final product you know and love.
Like this? Learn more about the different types of coffee.