There are many different methods of processing coffee. Each processing method affects the flavor of the coffee, and the sustainability of the coffee farm where it’s harvested.
Coffee beans are in fact the seeds from coffee fruit, commonly called coffee cherries. The fruit grows on small shrubs and ranges in color from an unripened yellow or green cherry to a ripe red cherry. The different processing methods are simply how the coffee is treated after it is harvested from the coffee trees.
Natural processing is one of the oldest methods of processing coffee beans. It starts with hand sorting and then spreading the whole cherries with fruit attached where it is left to dry. Since the fruit is still intact, it gives a sweeter and fruiter taste. You may find hints of blueberry or strawberry in a coffee bean that has been naturally processed. Since no water is used, it is more economically friendly and perfect for dryer regions such as Ethiopia where natural processing gets its roots.
Washed processing (also called wet processing) starts with removing the skin and fruit quickly from the seed. Since the fruit is promptly stripped away using a depulping machine that resembles a cheese grater, you will taste less of the sweet fruit flavor and more of a cocoa or nuttier flavor. After the fruit is stripped away, the seeds are placed in water where enzymes help break down any sticky mucilage left on the seed. This processing method gives you more control over your product and is more common than natural processing, but as its name implies uses a lot of water and is not ideal with dry climates.
The next method is semi-washed processing. There are a few varieties of semi-washed processing, but today we will focus on honey processing. Honey processing is a relatively new method of processing coffee, and is one of most demanding methods we have covered here today. The seeds are sticky to the touch due to the mucilage that is left behind, hence the name ‘honey’ processing.
Similar to the washed process, the coffee is harvested, sorted and the skin is removed with a depulping machine, but all of the mucilage (or fruit) is left on the seed. The seeds are then spread out and then covered with a black tarp to dry. The heat and duration of the drying time determines both the color and the flavor profile of the coffee beans. The longer the seeds are left out in the sun to dry gives the seeds a deeper, darker color, and a more dramatic and bold flavor. A yellow honey bean, for instance, is left out in the sun for less time and returns a lighter flavored coffee bean. A red or black honey bean has left out to dry for days longer and yields the most flavorful beans with notes of berries, honey and brown sugar.
With the purchase of our Honduras Finca La Unica Honey Process & Hill Tree Coffee Mug, we will contribute $5 to a mini-grant fund for the WV Women’s Business Center in support of a woman-owned business. The Honduras Finca La Unica Honey Process coffee with blackberry, apple and black tea notes is sourced from a Honduran farm owned by Leticia Lopez Hutchins. Leticia, a 5th generation coffee farmer, is proud to be an example for women everywhere by owning her own land and assuming a role typically reserved for men in Honduras.
Christie Michele - Coffee Contributor / Staff Writer
Christie is a programmer, data nerd, and blogger. Christie is the founder of Athena Blue (athenablue.dev) where she works as a web and database programmer, and Pain Free Journey (painfreejourney.com) where she produces digital content to inspire those suffering with chronic pain. Although she enjoys many, her favorite Hill Tree coffee bean is the Ethiopia Guji Shakiso Sewana Natural.