Coffee processing methods
Coffee is a unique fruit which doesn’t have any one specific taste. It can taste of citruses, stone fruits, flowers, nuts or even chocolate. This incredible diversity is caused by many factors such as the variety of the tree, climatic conditions, roasting, but also the processing of the harvested coffee cherries, and later beans. There are several methods differing most importantly in the time for how long the bean is in contact with the pulp, and each leads to a different taste experience.

Processing Dry / wet Process length Pulp amount Coffea #ID
Natural dry up to 30 days all ND
Washed wet immediately none WW
Honey White semi 5 days very little HW
Yellow semi 8 days little HY
Golden semi 10 days most HG
Red semi 12 days most HR
Black semi 30 days most HB
Natural (dry)
The dry natural method is the very oldest method of freshly picked coffee cherries. They are places either on terraces or the so-called African beds. Terraces block the flow of air from below, and thus have to be mixed during the drying process to prevent unwanted fermentation. That’s why African beds are a slightly superior method, because they offer a more uniform drying process.

These methods are very typical for countries with extremely intense sunlight such as Ethiopia and Yemen. It is a risky method for countries with more humid climates, as there is a high risk of mold contamination.

The fruit pulp is in contact with the coffee bean the entire time, which allows sugars to penetrate the beans. Coffees processed in this way preserve the strongest fruity tastes and give the most respect to the fact that coffee is indeed a fruit. Full body, low acidity and intense sweetness are the typical traits of naturally processed coffee. This method is also the most environmentally friendly, as it doesn’t need large amount of water.

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Washed (wet)
In this method, the fruit peels are first mechanically removed from the beans. Then, the beans covered with pulps are drained down water basins and mixed man times in order to remove the pulps from the beans. The time coffee spends in the water varies from a few hours to a few days, depending on the type of equipment, climate and intentions of the washing station. Next, the beans are either sun-dried or dried in special machines.

Washed coffees are known for their pure taste and strong acidity. The idea behind washing is that the coffee beans already have everything they need from the time they had spent on trees and that they do not need any extra exposure to the pulp. Removing the pulp lets the coffee beans better keep their individual traits they gain from their location, genetic variety and so on.

Double washed
A unique process mostly confined to Kenya. Compared to normal, fully washed coffee, there is an extra night the coffee spends floating in water before being pulped, which warrants a greater water purity during the fermentation following the pulping and thus the removal of unwanted influence on the taste of the coffee beans is minimalized even more.

Hand washed
A primitive form of full washing typical for isolated and undeveloped locations, such as the Ugandan hinterlands. The cherries are hand-pulped in mechanical mills, put into woven baskets and hand-washed in mountain stream water. It is a difficult method, but the final coffee is washed pretty much perfectly.

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Despite the sweet sounding name, searching for intense sweetness in honey-processed coffees would come in vain. The name doesn’t come from honey’s taste, but its texture. Coffees processed in this way are shiny and sticky to the touch.

Technologically, this method is somewhere between the dry and wet methods. The fruit peels are removed mechanically like in the wet method, but then the fruits are dried with the pulps on like in the natural method. Depending on the amount of pulp left on the beans and the length of the drying process, we differentiate between white, yellow, golden, red and black honey methods.

White and yellow honey methods leave very little pulp on the beans and thus are very similar to washed coffees.

Golden honey are beans with a large amount of pulp dried out in the sun, which means the drying process is very fast in both the technological process and the taste.
Red honey process is similar, but the drying takes place in the shade, so it takes a longer time and more sugars have the time to penetrate the bean.
Black honey is dried in darkness, which makes the process the slowest and the sweetness strongest.

Just like the process, the final taste of such processed beans is somewhere between natural and washed. These coffees have a full body, but they are not as fruity as dry-processed coffees, instead they excel in acidity. In order to reach the desired final taste, the process requires a lot of quality control and is the hardest to manage well.

Working with coffee is always a little bit of adventure, and for various reasons farmers often decide to drop conventional ways and try to find their own ways to process coffee in the best way possible. Because of climate change, humidity and rainfall is often extremely different from harvest to harvest and farmers have to choose the right process and its length to make sure their coffees come out well. Recently, modern technologies can assist in making the right decisions, such as using a refractometer to measure the amount of sugar in coffee beans. But in the end, it is always up to the experience of the farmers and people working at washing stations to find the perfect solutions.

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