Coffee Processing on the Farm

Processing methods have significant impact on the flavor of your coffee

Processing methods applied on the farm will have tremendous influence on the coffee you end up consuming. Growing, processing, and roasting coffee are all about chemical changes that influence flavor. The choice of processing method influences how much each chemical component of a coffee bean is present when that bean makes it to the roaster.

Coffee is traditionally processed in three ways:

  • Washed
  • Natural (Dry)
  • Honey

Let’s take a quick look at these different processing methods.

Washed Coffees

The washed processed coffee is all about the bean. After de-pulping and fermentation, the beans are washed prior to drying. The removal of the cherry before the drying phase allows the natural flavors of the bean to stand out.

Washed coffees depend almost exclusively on the bean absorbing enough natural sugars and nutrients during the growth cycle. Factors such as the following are important:

  • Varietal
  • Soil
  • Weather
  • Ripeness
  • Fermentation
  • Washing and Drying

Washed coffees highlight the science of growing coffee and the contribution of farmers in crafting its flavors. With this process, the country of origin and environmental activity are key to the flavor. This is why so many specialty coffees use the washed process.

Natural (Dry) Processed Coffees

The natural process (or dry process) originated in Ethiopia. With the natural process, the bean dries in the full cherry before de-pulping. This leads to more fruit and fermented flavors because the bean has more time to react with the natural sugars from the cherry.

If the producers are not careful when drying natural coffees, unwanted flavors will emerge in the roasted coffee. Consistency and care are the most important ingredients. If processed well, Natural Coffees can compete with Washed Coffees in quality.

Honey Processed Coffees

The honey process has strong roots in Costa Rica, and is a hybrid of the washed and natural processes. The cherries are de-pulped but allowed to dry without washing them. This leaves some fruit but not as much as in the natural process.

Most of the coffee cherry is removed, but the remaining golden, sticky mucilage resembles honey. This is where the process gets its name. One of the benefits of the honey process is that it uses less water.

Honey processed coffee has many variations. If you have purchased a honey processed coffee, you may have noticed the name as "yellow" honey or "red" honey. These subcategories (yellow, red, golden, black, and white) refer to the color of the bean during drying. As the coffee beans dry, the sticky mucilage oxidizes and darkens in color, from yellow to red to black.