Coffee Processing Methods | Wet, Dry, Honey, Animal

Coffee is a beloved beverage around the world. From small coffee shop owners to large corporate chains, it’s enjoyed by millions of people daily.

But do you know how your favorite cup of coffee is made? Coffee processing is the process that takes place between harvesting and roasting, ultimately resulting in the final product.

In this article we will explore different coffee processing methods from washed process to honey processing and mechanical drying, to understand how they impact the taste and quality of our beloved cup of joe.

So grab a mug and let’s dive into the fascinating world of coffee processing!

What is Coffee Processing?

Coffee processing is the method used to transform coffee cherries into dried beans that are then roasted and brewed. It begins with harvesting ripe coffee cherries, which are then sorted by hand to remove any unripe or damaged fruits.

Coffee Cherries

The coffee cherries are then processed through one of several methods, including washed process, honey process, and mechanical drying. The difference between these processes lies in how they handle the fruit’s outer layer, called the mucilage.

No matter the process, it requires skill and attention to detail. With each method offering its own nuanced flavor, exploring these different types of processing methods can be a great way to find your perfect cup!

Types of Coffee Processing Methods

There are several methods used for this process, each resulting in a unique flavor profile that reflects the craftsperson’s vision.

Coffee processing varies on weather, regional resources, and tradition. Mostly three types of coffee processing are very common around the world. However, some unique approaches have also been found, and I’ll also include those here. 

  • Dry process (Natural Process)
  • Wet process (Washed process)
  • Honey process 
  • Washed-hull process
  • Processing using animals 

Dry process (Natural Process)

The dry process is a traditional method of coffee processing that involves leaving the entire coffee cherry intact while it dries on patios or raised beds. 

Coffee Cherry processing

Periodically cherries are turned to avoid moulding, rotting, and fermentation. After proper drying, the skin and fruit flesh are removed from the cherries. 

To ensure quality control throughout all stages of production, experienced workers carefully monitor each step of the process. As a result, it is generally easier to trace back any defects or problems with this method than with other methods like wet processing.

However, this dry process takes significantly longer than other methods since it requires up to three months of drying time before being milled and packaged. Furthermore, due to its reliance on natural elements such as sun and airflow, this technique has more variables that can affect the quality of the final product if not done correctly. 

While labor-intensive, this technique produces results that many specialty coffee drinkers appreciate due to its ability to produce coffees with a deep body, rich flavors, and low acidity.

Central and South America are especially well-known for their use of this technique, as it has been a part of local culture for centuries. Additionally, several African countries have adopted this method due to its low cost and ability to produce a distinctive flavor that many specialty coffee drinkers enjoy. 

Washed Process (Wet Process)

The washed process is a method of coffee processing that is entirely the opposite of dry processing. In this process, ripe coffee cherries are harvested and fruit flesh is removed entirely using a de-pulper machine. 

De-pulping Machine

Coffee beans from the de-pulper machine are transferred to a freshwater tank In the tank, the coffee beans are fermented for 24-72 hours to remove residual mucilage still present on the seeds. If the seeds are fermented for a long time it can negatively impact the flavor of the coffee, so precise timing is required. 

When the fermentation is finished coffee seeds are washed rigorously to clear off the fermentation residue. Then the coffee beans are dried similar to dry processing. 

During drying coffee beans are turned routinely to prevent moulding, and rotting. Besides sun drying coffee beans are also dried mechanically, especially in the region where sunlight is not strong enough or the humidity is high. 

Drying De-pulped coffee beans under sunlight

The washed process is an effective way to produce high-quality coffees with bright flavors and complex notes. However, it does require careful monitoring throughout each stage of production in order to ensure consistent results.

In East Africa, Ethiopia, and Kenya use this process in producing their own unique coffees. In these regions, producers typically let the coffee cherries dry on raised beds in order to achieve consistent results. 

Honey Processing

The name honey processing originated because of the stickiness it develops during the process. This method falls in between the wet and dry processes. 

Sticky Beans During Honey Processing

Similar to the wet process, pulp from the coffee cherries is removed using a de-pulper machine. However, fruit flesh isn’t removed completely as in the wet process, rather some portion of the flesh is intentionally left with the beans depending on the desired flavor profile.

Beans are graded differently based on the flesh amount left with the beans; Black honey, Yellow honey, Red honey, etc. Black honey contains the most mucilage than the other honey categories. In general, the more flesh or mucilage left with the beans sweeter and more flavourful coffee you’ll have. 

After de-pulping, coffee beans are dried either mechanically or naturally. Since less portion of mucilage is present here, the risk of over-fermentation is lower than in the natural process. 

Honey Processing provides greater control over the sugar content in each batch resulting in a more consistent cup of coffee. However, this method requires more expertise than other methods so may be cost-prohibitive for some growers.

Honey Processing is most commonly found in Central American countries such as Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and El Salvador although recently it has been used in Colombia as well.

Wet-Hulled Processing

Wet-hulled coffee, also known as semi-washed coffee, is a unique processing method that differs from the more common washed/dry process.

After de-pulping, the seeds are not immediately moved to drying beds but instead stored in plastic tanks. The mucilage remains on the seeds, creating a thick husk that encapsulates them.

Wet-hulled processed coffee

The next step is hulling, where the husk and parchment surrounding the seeds are removed. The seeds are then laid out to dry.

In Indonesia, where the humid climate makes drying conditions difficult, wet hulling is a popular method. It allows for more efficient and speedy processing, with a shorter drying time compared to other methods.

Wet-hulled coffee has a heavy-bodied taste due to the dried mucilage. The best example is Indonesia Sumatra coffee has a chocolatey, savory, and nutty flavor profile.

Animals Processing (Poop Coffee)

Civet eating coffee cherries

Some coffee processing methods involve the use of animals. For example, kopi luwak is a type of coffee from Asia that is made from coffee berries eaten by the Asian palm civet.

The beans are eventually harvested from the animal’s feces, and the resulting coffee is one of the most expensive in the world, with bean prices reaching up to $160 per pound.

Kopi luwak coffee is said to have a unique flavor and aroma, with hints of chocolate, due to the partial fermentation that occurs as the animal’s digestive enzymes break down bean proteins.

Civet poop after digesting coffee cherries

Another example is black ivory coffee, which is made in Thailand by feeding coffee beans to elephants. The digestive enzymes in the elephant’s stomach reduce the bitter taste of the beans, resulting in a coffee that sells for up to $1,100 per kilogram and is considered the world’s most expensive coffee, three times costlier than kopi luwak coffee.

What Processing Method Should be Followed? 

The environment in which the coffee is produced can have a significant impact on the final product. Like most food items, coffee has a strong connection with its surroundings.

Producers must consider various environmental factors such as rainfall when deciding on the processing method to use. Heavy rainfall makes it challenging to produce natural process coffee because coffee cherries can split.

In contrast, dry conditions are ideal for honey or natural process coffee because the sugars remain intact. To determine the sugar content of their coffee, many coffee farms use refractometers on their farm to decide which processing method to be followed.

What’s The Next Step After Processing Coffee Beans? 

After drying the beans are collected and stored in silos or warehouses where they remain for up to three months (except wet-hulled processed beans). Finally, the beans are sent to a milling facility where they undergo hulling and sorting before being packaged and shipped off for further roasting and brewing.

Sujit Modak

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