Coffee Bean Processing Method Affects Final Flavor

How do you take your coffee? Two creams, a dozen sugars? Nine splendas? Lots of high fructose corn syrup in that latte? Or are you more of a purist that loves the delicate nut and chocolate notes of a Guatemalan? How about the sweet caramel finish of the best straight espresso shot in town? Well, before you can drink up Joe in any method, coffee beans have to be removed from the cherry. Even organic coffee. That is done in a couple of ways depending on the country of origin and it is called processing. In addition to the growing region’s effect on cup taste, each method of processing helps to give the bean a distinct flavor profile in the overall final taste of the coffee.

The wet process is the process in which the fruit is removed from the seeds (beans) before they are dried. The wet process method is also called washed coffee. In this method the fruit is removed in water and the beans are usually dried on patios in the sun.

Wet processed coffees are like those from South America, Colombia and some from Ethiopia. Most Central Americans like Guatemalan and Costa Rican are wet-processed as well. These coffees are cleaner, brighter, and fruitier. Most countries with coffee valued for its perceived acidity, will process it using the wet-process.

The dry process is another method, also known as unwashed or natural process. It is the oldest method of processing green coffee beans where the entire cherry is cleaned and then placed in the sun to dry on tables or in thin layers on patios, completely intact and the dried cherry is removed after it has dried. This will give the coffee a sweeter taste due to the fruit drying intact.

Most of the coffees produced in Brazil, Ethiopia and India use the dry method. In rainy areas however, it is not practical. However, there are many characteristics that are directly related to the way these coffee beans are processed as well. Dry-processed coffees are like those from Indonesia, Ethiopia, Brazil, and Yemen. The dry-process (also known as the natural method) produces coffee that is heavy in body, sweet, smooth, and complex. This processing method is often used in countries where rainfall is scarce and lots of sunny days are available to dry the coffee properly.

Another method used in Brazil mainly but also used on some farms in Sulawesi, Indonesia and Sumatra. These are known as semi-dry processed coffee (aka pulped natural or semi-wet process). The coffee is prepared by removing the outer skin of the cherry and drying the coffee with the sticky mucilage and the inner skins still clinging to the bean.

As for the pulped natural method of processing coffee beans, eliminating the fermentation stage that removes the silver skin allows for a coffee that has both wet and dry characteristics. Therefore, more sweetness than wet-processed coffees, some of the body of dry-processed and some of the acidity of a wet-processed coffee. This type of processing only happens in countries where there is relatively low humidity and the coffee can be dried rapidly without fermenting. The country that has made this process famous is Brazil. FYI fermentation occurs when the inner slimy mucilage is removed before drying. Pulped coffee beans are put into cement fermentation tanks with water where they are allowed to ferment for 16-36 hours.

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