The coffee we enjoy every day went through an intricate and complex supply chain network before reaching your cup. Typically the coffee is planted, harvested, processed, milled, stored and shipped to us before it goes into our roaster.
Once the coffee cherry is picked, it needs to be processed as soon as possible to avoid fruit spoilage. Each process creates different flavor profiles and mouthfeel. Here are the main processing methods used around the world.
Also referred to as the wet process, the washed method starts with sorting the cherries by immersing them in water. The ripe cherries sink to the bottom thanks to their density and the unripe/overripe ones float to the top, where they get skimmed. The ripe cherries then go through a pulping machine. This separates the cherry skin from the pulp (also known as mucilage) covered seed, which then goes into a big tank filled with water to start the fermentation process. The fermentation relies on enzymes to remove the mucilage from the beans. The coffee is then washed with clean water or in special washing machines before allowing it to dry.
The final step is drying the washed beans down to a water content of about 10% before they are stable. This step is usually done by laying the beans under the sun and continuously raking them for even dryness, or using a drying machine in some farms.
This method is the most dominant around the world, it provides more consistent and reliable results. However, it does require a fair amount of water and specialized equipment.
Also known as unwashed or dry process. The picked ripe cherries are spread out under the sun on the large drying patios or raised surfaces, where they get to dry down to a moisture level of about 11%. They get continuously raked and turned to ensure all beans are exposed to the sun evenly. This process takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending mainly on the weather and humidity. Once the coffee reaches the desired moisture content, they go through a hulling machine to remove the dried cherry from the beans.
This method is mostly used in countries with water scarcity. Where the climate is relatively dry throughout the harvesting season and the air has low humidity levels.
Honey / Pulp Natural
A somewhat hybrid of natural and washed methods. This process starts with removing the skin of the cherry, leaving the pulp (mucilage) on the coffee and allowed to dry without washing. The term honey was coined based on the honey color and texture given by the mucilage remaining on the coffee. This method is more labor intensive since the mucilage is susceptible to molding and bacteria, which requires constant moving and close supervision. Honey processed coffees generally tend to have more complexity and a fuller body than washed coffees, but not as funky and fruity as natural coffees.
This new and recently growing fermentation process is quickly gaining popularity, especially in coffee competitions. Anaerobic (oxygen free) process has similar steps to the washed process but the fermentation is done in tightly sealed and oxygen deprived tanks. Another similar anaerobic fermentation method is called Carbonic Maceration (carbon dioxide rich environments). This involves fermenting the cherries as a whole inside the tank. These recent methods are more experimentational and less scalable at the moment, but seem very promising given the complex and wild flavors they produce.
Farmers and cooperatives around the world choose their preferred method based on many factors, from climate to water availability and infrastructure. We constantly look to source and roast all the different processed coffees throughout the year because we want to provide a wide range of flavors for the diverse taste buds.