Coffee Processing Methods

Natural, Washed, Wet-Hulled & Honey Processing Explained

What is Coffee Processing?

Coffee processing refers to the method in which coffee beans are harvested, prepared, and transformed from raw cherries into green coffee beans to eventually be roasted. There are a variety of different coffee processing methods, which each have an impact on the final product, including the flavor profile of the coffee.

These processing methods can significantly influence the flavor, acidity, body, and overall characteristics of the coffee. 

Coffee Processing Methods

Let’s take a look at some different coffee processing methods, starting with the most common!

  • Dry (Natural) Processing
  • Washed (Wet) Processing
  • Wet Hull (Giling Basah) Processing
  • Honey (Semi-Washed) Processing

Natural Processed Coffee → What is Natural Coffee Processing?

Overview

Natural coffee processing, also known as dry processing, is a method where coffee cherries are dried whole, allowing the beans to absorb flavors from the surrounding fruit pulp and mucilage.

This process is one of the oldest and most traditional methods of coffee preparation.

Process

Harvesting: Ripe coffee cherries are harvested from the coffee plants.
Drying Whole Cherries: The entire cherry, including the outer skin, pulp, and mucilage, is laid out in the sun to dry. This process can take several weeks.
Fermentation during Drying: As the cherries dry, natural fermentation occurs, breaking down the sugars in the mucilage and infusing the beans with unique flavors.
Hulling: Once sufficiently dried, the outer layers (husk, pulp, and mucilage) are mechanically or manually removed to reveal the green coffee beans.

Flavor Profile

Natural processing tends to result in coffee with a fuller body, lower acidity, and pronounced fruity and fermented flavors due to the extended contact of the beans with the cherry's sugars during drying.

Recommendations

You've definitely tried plenty of beans that were processed via this method before, as it is the most common coffee processing method. That being said... here are two recommendations that we absolutely love!

Costa Rica Geisha Coffee

Roasted By: Volcanica Coffee

Costa Rica Geisha Coffee

Roast: Medium

Flavor Profile: Sweet & citric, with floral and apple notes

Ethiopian Sidamo Guji Coffee

Roasted By: Fresh Roasted Coffee

Ethiopian Sidamo Guji

Roast: Light

Flavor Profile: Delicate, with floral & fruity notes of cherry & strawberry


Washed Processed Coffee → What is Washed Coffee Processing?

Overview

Washed coffee processing, also known as wet processing, is a method in which coffee cherries are depulped and the beans are separated from the fruit before fermentation and drying.

This process is known for producing coffees with a cleaner, brighter acidity and a more distinct expression of the coffee bean's inherent characteristics.

Process

Pulping: Ripe cherries are pulped to remove the outer skin, leaving the beans covered in mucilage.

Fermentation: The beans with mucilage are fermented in water to loosen and remove the remaining mucilage. The fermentation time can vary but is carefully controlled to prevent over-fermentation.

Washing: After fermentation, the beans are thoroughly washed to remove any remaining mucilage.

Drying: The washed beans are then dried, either in the sun or using mechanical dryers, until they reach the desired moisture content.

Hulling: The dried beans are hulled to remove the parchment layer and any remaining layers of dried mucilage.

Flavor Profile

Wet processing tends to produce coffees with a cleaner and brighter cup profile, with more distinct acidity and a wide range of flavor notes. The process is designed to showcase the inherent qualities of the coffee bean without the influence of fermentation.

Recommendations

You've probably also tried plenty of beans that were processed via this method, but here are two more recommendations anyway!

Kenya AA Coffee

Roasted By: Cooper's Cask Coffee

Kenya AA

Roast: Medium-Dark

Flavor Profile: Rich, notes of honey, Baker's chocolate & cherry

Guatemala Antigua Coffee

Roasted By: Volcanica Coffee

Volcanica Guatemala Antigua Coffee

Roast: Medium

Flavor Profile: Rich, sweet, notes of nut & chocolate


Wet Hull Processed Coffee → What is Wet Hull Processing?

Overview

Wet hulling, also known as Giling Basah, is a processing method commonly used in regions with high humidity, such as parts of Indonesia, particularly Sumatra.

This method is characterized by removing the parchment layer from the coffee beans at a higher moisture content than other processing methods.

Process

Pulping: After harvesting, the outer skin of the coffee cherry is removed (pulped).

Partial Drying: The beans, still covered in mucilage and parchment, are partially dried to around 50% moisture content.

Hulling: The parchment is then mechanically hulled while still somewhat moist.

Final Drying: The beans are further dried to reach the desired moisture content for export.

Flavor Profile

Wet-hulled coffees often exhibit a full body, low acidity, and a unique earthy and spicy flavor profile. The higher moisture content during processing contributes to the distinctive characteristics of these coffees.

Recommendations

If you haven't tried coffee from Indonesia before, you're missing out! Here are two recommendations from Indonesian that have been processed via the Wet Hull method.

Indonesian Bali Blue Moon Coffee

Roasted By: Fresh Roasted Coffee

Indonesia Bali Blue Moon

Roast: Medium

Flavor Profile: Rich, notes of dark chocolate, vanilla, earth & spice

Indonesian Sumatra Coffee

Roasted By: Cooper's Cask Coffee

Indonesia Sumatra Dark

Roast: Dark

Flavor Profile: Rich, dark chocolate, cherry, earthy & cedar notes


Honey Processed Coffee → What is Honey Coffee Processing?

Overview

Honey processing, also known as pulped natural processing, is a method that falls between the dry (natural) and washed processes.

The term "honey" refers to the sticky, mucilage layer that is left on the beans during drying.

Process

Pulping: The outer skin of the coffee cherry is removed.

Mucilage Retention: Unlike washed processing, some or all of the mucilage is intentionally left on the beans.

Drying: The beans are dried with the mucilage still attached. The amount of mucilage left on the beans can vary, resulting in designations such as white honey, yellow honey, red honey, and black honey.

Flavor Profile

Honey-processed coffees often strike a balance between the clean profile of washed coffees and the fruity and full-bodied characteristics of natural-processed coffees. The retained mucilage can contribute sweetness and complexity to the cup.

Recommendations

Perhaps you haven't tried a honey processed coffee before. If that's the case, we advise that you do so. Here's a good one that you can grab online!

Costa Rica Red Honey Coffee

Roasted By: Bean & Bean Coffee

Costa Rica Red Honey

Roast: Medium

Flavor Profile: Notes of strawberry, orange, peach & green apple


How do coffee producers select the right coffee processing method?

Different producers often prefer one method over another based on various factors, including environmental conditions, regional traditions, the desired flavor profile, and practical considerations. Let’s take a closer look at these factors and learn how and why producers make their decisions.

Some key factors that impact the decision on which coffee processing method to use:

Climate and Weather: 

The local climate and weather conditions play a significant role in the selection of the most suitable coffee processing method. Dry and sunny climates are well-suited for natural processing, while wetter climates may favor washed or honey processing.

Altitude:

Altitude affects the maturation rate of coffee cherries. In higher altitudes, where cherries may mature more slowly, natural processing might be a suitable method. Natural processing takes advantage of the longer maturation period, allowing the cherries to develop more sugars and flavors before harvesting.

Water Availability:

The washed process requires a substantial amount of water for pulping and fermentation. In regions with limited water resources, producers may opt for dry or honey processing methods.

Regional Traditions:

Coffee-producing regions often have long-standing traditions and cultural preferences for specific processing methods. Producers may choose methods based on what has historically worked well in their area.

Desired Flavor Profile:

Each processing method imparts distinct flavors to the coffee. Producers may choose a method based on the flavor profile they want to achieve. For example, natural processing tends to result in fruity and full-bodied coffees, while washed coffees are known for their cleaner and brighter profiles.

Market Trends and Consumer Preferences:

Trends in the specialty coffee market and consumer preferences can influence the choice of processing methods. Producers may experiment with different methods to create unique and appealing flavors that align with market demand.

Infrastructure and Resources:

The availability of processing equipment and infrastructure can impact the choice of processing method. Small-scale producers may not have access to advanced machinery, influencing them to choose simpler methods.

Experimentation and Innovation:

Some producers may choose processing methods based on experimentation and a desire to create unique and distinctive coffees. This can lead to the development of innovative processing techniques.

Consistency and Control:

Certain methods, such as washed processing, offer more control over the fermentation and washing stages, allowing for a more consistent quality. Producers aiming for consistency in flavor may prefer such methods.

Cost Considerations:

The cost associated with different processing methods, including labor, water, and equipment, can influence the decision. Some methods may be more resource-intensive than others.

Overall, the choice of coffee processing method is a complex decision influenced by a combination of natural conditions, cultural practices, market dynamics, and the desired characteristics of the final coffee product. Producers often consider a combination of these factors to make informed decisions about the processing method that best suits their specific circumstances.

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