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Coffee Clarified: A Study of the Bean

Want to know more about how your coffee gets made? Before roasting brings out their best flavors, your coffee beans go through some rigorous processing to preserve the goodness within.

A crucial step in the farm-to-cup journey, processing separates the fruity flesh of the coffee cherry from its beans after harvest time. There are several methods of approach, and growers are still experimenting with new ones, because processing makes a dramatic impact on the finished coffee product. 

The dry process or “natural processing” method is common in regions of Brazil and Ethiopia, where they harness the power of the sun: Ripe-picked coffee cherries are spread across brick patios or raised tables that allow suitable airflow for natural drying. Regular turning prevents fermentation and mold. Once the coffee is well dried, the hull and flesh are removed, and the green coffee beans inside are rested before traveling. This process ultimately draws out honey and red wine flavor notes.

Another popular method is wet processing, also known as the “washed process,” in which the fruit flesh is removed first with a depulping machine. Beans are then immersed in large water tanks, and fermentation eats away at any pulp remaining. After 24 to 72 hours, the beans are rinsed clean and naturally or mechanically dried in batches. This method requires more water than most, but when approached properly it gleans a very clean-tasting coffee.

A unique drying process called the “honey method”—in which the sugary layer surrounding coffee cherries is allowed to dry intact, creating a sticky amber coating—imparts nuanced chocolatey flavors to the finished cup. Honey-processed coffee may be lighter or deeper in color depending on the amount of flesh left on the bean, and often carries nutty or dark cherry notes.

Similar to the washed method, anaerobic coffee processing uses water and fermentation, but takes place inside sealed, oxygen-deprived tanks. Another experimental approach borrowed from winemaking methodology, carbonic maceration takes things a step further, as the coffee cherries are fermented whole. This breaks down the fruit flesh and imparts intense flavors such as whisky or banana into the beans.

Processed coffee beans are usually stored in a dry warehouse for one or two months before exporting to a roastery, where the excitement continues! Want to learn more about the next steps in coffee making? Check out our blog on roasting temps and flavors, and get ready to impress others with your deep java knowledge.

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