Many of the things we enjoy on a regular basis take some serious effort to end up in our hands. Coffee is no exception. It takes an incredible processing journey to end up in your cup!
We wanted to take a moment to breakdown the major ways that coffee is transformed from being a cherry to ending up as the green coffee that we roast for you!
Washed Process (Wet Process)
The process known as washed process or wet process is the most commonly used method to extract those wonderful coffee seeds. Don't let this intense machine fool you, it's a rather straight forward concept. Using water, the most ripe coffee sinks into a "depulper"- which crushes the fruit and pops the seeds out and into a large holding tank. Coffee that is unripe or a lower density floats off into a separate holding tank to be processed separately as lower grade coffee.
Once the seeds have run through the depulper, they are immersed in water for anywhere between a few hours and a couple days to begin fermenting. This part of processing loosens up the remaining fruit left on the seeds (it's called mucilage). The coffee then gets washed again, this time through running water, which carries away all residue of the mucilage along with any additional underripe beans remaining.
Natural Process (aka Sun-dried or Dry Process)
The Natural Process is the oldest way of getting the coffee seed out of the fruit. Originating in Ethiopia, the coffee is basically picked ripe and then left to dry on patios or beds. They are raked periodically to prevent molding, and they dry until they are nearly the consistency of vanilla bean pods! The fruit is then snapped open to reveal the seed.
Honey Process (Pulp Natural)
We now come to the part of processing that has been the result of some ambitious farmers' experimenting over the last couple decades. Brazil headed up this attempt of capturing some of the coffee fruit's flavor (which we get a full blast of with naturals), while cleaning up the flavor a bit more to resemble the positive attributes of washed coffees.
The process begins the same as with washed coffees, with the coffee cherries being run through a depulper. But from here, Instead of entering the fermentation tanks, the mucilage (fruit pulp) covered coffee is removed and then spread out on patios. It is then raked periodically and left to dry as you would a natural coffee.
Farmers have tweaked this method to different degrees of drying to impart more or less fruit flavor. These degrees have come to be known as yellow (or white) honey, red honey, and black honey. The fruity aspect being at its peak at black honey - which is quite a bit more similar to a natural than the average honey process.
What about "wet hulled" coffees from Indonesia?
Lastly we arrive at the rather intriguing way that a lot of Indonesian countries process their coffee. Picture the same point that we started with honey processes, coffee is freshly depulped, bagged in tarp lined bags, and then quickly driven to market and sold. The people who grow coffee in Indonesia are subsistence farmers. For the most part, they don't grow enough coffee to afford the building of any infrastructure past a very simple hand cranked depulper. For this reason, coffee stays in a bag with the pulp on for up to several days exchanging hands to get to the local dry mill. The coffee is then washed the rest of the way and dried as normal. The contact with the wet mucilage imparts very intriguing herbaceous and tobacco-like flavors.
With all the fruit removed, the coffee seeds are then dried on patios, or on raised beds until they are sufficiently dried for export. Coffee has a shell similar to a pumpkin seed that we call "parchment", which gets shucked off once it goes to the dry mill (where it is exported). The coffee then runs through many different kinds of sorting depending on the mill, all to get the best possible coffee to be tasted, graded, and exported.
In summary, coffee takes a marvelous journey to get into your cup. (And, that's not to mention the complexities of exporting and roasting!) Every step of the way, specialty coffee is handled carefully, passing through many skilled hands before it arrives at our doors.
If you haven't tried all of these processing methods ask your local barista to let you try a new one. At our cafe we presently have each of these processing methods represented and our baristas would love to share them with you.