Processing refers to the methods used to transform a picked coffee cherry into a green coffee bean that is ready to be roasted. It’s one of many steps that coffee goes through before being brewed. It includes the steps used to remove the three layers surrounding a coffee bean, the cherry, mucilage and parchment, as well as how beans are dried. There are three main ways that coffee is processed, and each produces unique characteristics. They are dry, wet and semi-washed.
Dry Processing Creates a Bold Body and Exotic Flavors
Dry Processing, which is also called natural processing, creates exotic coffees by leaving the bean inside the and cherry during the initial phase of processing. The cherry creates a closed environment. Inside this environment, the cherry’s and mucilage’s sugars ferment into alcohols that the bean soaks in. After the cherry is dried into a fruity leather, it’s hulled, and the beans are prepared for shipping.
The sugars and alcohols from the cherry and mucilage create the strong, exotic flavors that dry processed beans are known for. Because this method leaves the beans inside the cherry, though, it produces inconsistent results. Therefore, although dry processed coffees can be excellent, they should be selected only after cupping and on a lot-by-lot basis.
Wet Processing Produces Clean and Bright Coffees
Wet processing also goes by washed processing. Instead of leaving the bean inside the cherry, wet processing immediately removes the bean from the cherry and mucilage after picking. Many processors soak the beans in fermentation tanks, where naturally occurring microbes process the sugars found in the cherry and mucilage. Some, however, use machines to remove these layers mechanically.
After the cherry and mucilage are removed, the beans are dried either under the sun or in mechanical dryers. Finally, the parchment is removed during hulling and the coffee’s ready to be shipped.
By removing the cherry and mucilage in the first step, wet processing produces more consistent coffees than dry processing does. Coffees that are washed are known for their bright, clean flavor profiles and lighter bodies. Because this processing requires fermentation tanks or machines, though, it’s only available to farmers in more developed coffee-growing countries.
Semi-Washed Processing Strikes a Balance
Semi-washed processing is also referred to as pulped-natural processing and honey processing, depending on the region. This method strikes a balance between dry and wet processing by removing the cherry, but not the mucilage, before the beans are dried.
All stages of processing are important, but drying requires special attention in semi-washed processing. The beans must be dried naturally, because the mucilage left on them would stick to mechanical dryer’s walls. As they sit under the sun, they must be constantly rotated so that the mucilage doesn’t collect in a single spot and cause the beans to rot. Once the beans are dried, they’re ready for shipping.
In this method, the mucilage dries into the beans, infusing them with flavors. These flavors are not as pronounced as the ones produced by the sugars and alcohols from both cherries and the mucilage in dry processing, though. Semi-washed coffees typically feature a balance of acidity and body, along with notes of sweetness that comes from the mucilage’s sugars.
Do You Like Dry, Wet or Semi-Washed?
Dry, washed and semi-washed processing all infuse coffee with unique characteristics. Dry processed coffees are known for their exotic flavors and big bodies. Washed coffees feature bright, clean and crisp profiles. Semi-washed coffees strike a balance between the two, with a rounded acidity, medium body and sweet notes.
As you explore new coffees, pay attention to how they were processed and keep track of which method produces the selections you like best. You can start by finding out whether your latest shipment from us was dry, wet or semi-washed here.