Buying coffee isn't as easy as it used to be. Back in the day, the selection was scant; your typical hot cup o’ joe at the diner on the corner, watery instant coffee, or other
tasteless brands (we all know what these are…). Fortunately, for us coffee lovers, coffee’s reputation has significantly boosted over the past ten years and coffee growers,
importers, roasters and baristas are all working together to create that perfect cup.
Of course, everyone is subjective when it comes to their favorite coffee. Some like a light rather than dark roast profile, or enjoy espresso over a drip roast. Others like single origins vs. blends and are more partial to some origins than others. A few delve even deeper and look at the varietals, the elevation, and the kind of processes used to convert the original cherry into a bean that is ready for roasting. All of these factors are equally important, and should be taken into account when searching for that perfect cup with your name on it.
In this segment, we are going to define the different types of processes used. Because the processing method affects the taste of the bean, understanding these different processes is crucial and can explain why certain coffees taste the way they do. So how do you classify which process is best and will result in the highest quality roast for your personal taste? If you have never thought about the processes and would like to start considering this when choosing your coffee, we are here to drop some knowledge on you.
Once the coffee is harvested, it then needs to undergo a certain process that transforms the fruit from the tree, often referred to as the cherry, into a green coffee bean that is then ready to be roasted. In order to get to this point, green coffee beans must be released from their complex casing consisting of the skin, pulp, mucilage, parchment skin and silver skin. The most common processes used to do so are wet, semi-dry, and dry processes.
Wet-processed coffee, or washed coffee, uses water to carry the seed through the process. In traditional wet-processing, the water allows for the beans to be pulped from the outer fruit skin. Fermentation breaks down the fruit mucilage layer and the cellulose in the pulp. The beans are floated in water to further separate the bean from the pulp and to separate defective beans from the rest. At this point, the green coffee seed is still inside an outer parchment shell, rested for a period of time, and then milled into the green bean. So what are the benefits of wet-processing you ask? Often, this process is used to reduce the acidity in a coffee. Wet-processing often produces a brighter, cleaner flavor profile, with a lighter body than dry and semi-dry processed coffees.
Semi-dry processing, also referred to as semi-washed, is a newer method than the wet process, and is most commonly used in Brazil and Indonesia. In this process, the coffee fruit is mechanically removed by a pulping machine, the mucilage layer is then washed off, and the beans are laid out to dry. A major difference between fully washed and semi-washed methods is that the semi-washed beans are not completely washed of the mucilage and as a result are then dried with the mucilage still latching to the outside of the parchment shell. During the drying stage, this remaining mucilage dries into the core of the bean, changing the overall flavor profile and making it vastly different from a bean that underwent the fully washed process. So why would a semi-dry coffee be favorable to you? The semi- dry process can result in a coffee that is more earthy in taste, mildly-acidic, and heavy bodied.
The dry process, also referred to as the ‘unwashed’ or ‘natural’ process, is the original method and came about before the wet and semi-dry methods. Because it was the first of all processes, it was made possible solely with hand labor, making it the simplest of all the methods. Even to this day, it involves little machinery. It does contain the risk of tainting the coffee due to human error as a result of poor handling, drying, or sorting. After the coffee cherries are harvested, they are sorted and laid in the sun to dry. Sometimes the cherries are also machine dried after laying in the sun for several days to ensure that they are dried evenly. This process can take weeks, in order to make sure that the cherries are completely void of any excess moisture. After drying completely, the green seed is torn out from the skin and parchment layers in one step, usually pounded out by hand. Because there is no water to separate the defects by floating them to the surface, most defects must be removed visually, by hand.
Why would a dry processed coffee be the right choice for you? These coffees tend to have more body and lower acidity than their wet-process counterparts, with more rustic flavors due to the long contact between the fruit and the seed while drying. The coffee also absorbs nutrients from the fruit as a result of this long contact. When this process is carried out properly, it can result in pronounced fruit notes, a smooth flavor, and heavier body.
Take a look at some of the Wet, Dry, and Semi-dry process coffees we have available!
Perc Coffee: Wet
WASHED ETHIOPIA YIRGACHEFFE KONGA
Barefoot Coffee Roasters: Semi- Dry
Portola Coffee Lab: Dry
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