What Is Coffee Processing?

Processing is one of the big factors that can effect the final flavours in your cup. When we talk about how a coffee is processed we are essentially talking about how the skin and fruit of the coffee cherry were removed from the bean. There are some experimental types of processing that we will get to later but the vast majority falls within three categories. Washed, natural and pulped natural (also known as honey process).

Natural Process

The natural process is the oldest way to process coffee. Once the coffee cherries are harvested they are laid out to dry with the skin and fruit of the cherry still intact. The cherries are then regularly turned as they slowly dry out. Only once they are fully dried out are the skin and dried coffee cherry removed from the bean.

The natural process is often used in areas where water is scarce such as Ethiopia or Yemen and can often yield fantastic, unique and very intense flavours when done carefully and on high quality coffee cherries. That being said, using this process can be more risky to producers than using a washed process, as if it is not done with care and attention it could easily impart nastier flavours to the finished beans.

Washed Process

The washed process is vastly different from the natural process. The idea of the washed process is to remove all the skin and fruit of the coffee cherry before drying it out. After the coffee cherries are harvested the skin and a bulk of the fruit is removed by a depulper machine. It is then put into a tank of water where the last of the fruit is fermented off the coffee bean.

The washed process has a lot less risk of imparting unwanted flavours to the coffee than with natural processing. It does however cost a lot more to do and requires access to water and the right machinery.

Pulped Natural (or Honey) Process

Pulped natural (or honey process as it is known in central america) is a process that is somewhere between natural and washed. After the coffee cherries are harvested the skin and a portion of the fruit are removed using a depulper machine. The depulping machines can be set to leave varying amounts of fruit on the beans, the more fruit left on, the more it goes towards a natural style of coffee and the less fruit left on, the more it goes towards a washed style of coffee.

This method was created to try and use less water than washed coffee but have less chance of imparting bad flavours to a crop than with a fully natural process.

Experimental Processing

In recent years a lot of work has been done towards more experimental processing methods. Using new and unusual processing methods can really push the boundaries of what coffee can be and often produce very unique cups. From anaerobic processing (where reduced oxygen levels encourage lactic acid to form) to chilled and even frozen natural processing (to boost compounds found in the coffee that create sweetness) there is more and more demand for unusual and complex coffees that are a result of experimental processing.

There is always the danger of spoiling the coffee when experimenting with processing so it is often done with very small microlots or nanolots of coffee.

We hope this quick guide has given you some insight into the world of coffee processing.

All images from origin were taken by Falcon Coffee Importers.