What Is Coffee Processing And Why Does It Matter?

What Is Coffee Processing And Why Does It Matter?

Coffee processing is seldom talked about in mainstream coffee conversations, especially in Pakistans growing coffee culture. In this blog post we'll attempt to demystify the main processing methods you can find and help you understand how each translate into different flavor profiles. 

You might have seen the following words on your bag of coffee from your local roaster being used to describe the "process" of a coffee: washed, natural or honey. These are the most common coffee processing methods you will come across. 

What Does Processing Mean?

So what does processing imply in the context of coffee? Simply put, it refers to the way or steps used to separate the coffee seed/bean from its fruit/cherry. Some of you may or may not know this, but coffee grows in the form of a cherry fruit, and its seed is the raw coffee bean that is then roasted later on. Depending on how abundant certain resources are, producers will use specific processing methods for the coffee cherries accordingly. 

Washed Processing

Washed processing, or wet processing, heavily relies on the use of water in order to separate the coffee cherry from its seed. It begins with pulping, where a pulping machine is used along with flowing water to help remove the seed from the cherry. 


However, even after being separated from the coffee cherry, the seed will still have a layer of slimy mucilage over it that needs to be removed.                    

In the following stage, the mucilage and remaining layers are removed from the seed through fermentation. This step requires the seeds to rest in a tank filled with water for a specific period of time. 


Once fermented, the beans will once again be washed thoroughly with water to completely remove all remnants of fruit that might be covering it. 

The washed beans are then taken to drying beds where they are spread out and frequently moved around so that they may dry evenly. 


Once dried, the beans will form a thin layer of parchment over them as one would find on a peanut. It's not too prominent on washed coffees, due to how throughly all the layers have been removed, however, it still needs to be hulled to separate the thin film. 


After the above steps, the beans are once more examined for any defects, graded and packed in large sacks for export. 



How does washed coffee taste? 

Washed coffees are generally described as being clean, light bodied and having a bright acidity. This is by no means an umbrella flavor profile which all washed coffees will taste like. Most people who are new to specialty coffee will also be more inclined towards washed processed coffees due to a lack of surprises. Washed coffees allow you to taste the bean for what it is and it is a direct translation of how well it was farmed. 

Natural Processing 

Unlike washed or wet processing, the natural process does not involve the use of water in any of its stages. Instead of being pulped, the coffee cherry is taken straight to dry in the natural process, rather than having the skin being removed from the seed. 


The coffee will dry with its skin still on due to which its trickier drying natural coffees than washed coffees. They have to be raked and moved around frequently to ensure the cherry evenly dries and does not develop any mold. By the end of drying, the coffee cherry will look like a dried up raisin. 

The dried cherries will then be taken to hull throughly in order to remove all the layers of fruit over it. 


Just like in any other processing method, these coffees will then be quality checked, graded and packed for export. 

How does natural coffee taste?

Natural coffees are often times described as fruity, funky, having a heavier body and complex. This is due to the coffee cherries skin fermenting on the bean during the drying stage, and this allows for some of the sugars from the skin/fruit to be absorbed by the bean. Those new to specialty coffee may not find natural coffees too desirable because of how funky or unpredictable they can be. However, they are a great gateway into tasting new and interesting flavor profiles other than what traditional coffees have to offer. 

It is also important to understand that while natural coffee can result interesting and nuanced flavor profiles, coffee producers seldom chose the method with the end taste in mind. At most origins where water is scarce, or too costly, producers will opt for natural processing their coffee. 

Honey Processing 

We should clarify that honey processed coffees have absolutely no involvement of actual honey in any of its stages. 

In the honey process, coffee cherries are pulped right after harvesting just like they would be in the washed process to remove the fruit from the seed.


One the coffee seed leaves the pulper, it is taken straight to dry rather than being fermented in water tanks. The drying takes place with the sticky layer of mucilage covering the seed. 


Drying is also a tricky procedure for honey coffees due to extra care and attention needed to properly toss and turn the seeds in order to dry properly. 

After drying, the raw coffee bean/seed will have a visible layer of dried mucilage over it, which resembles the look of honey. 


     Image source: http://www.brewingisforeveryone.com/blog/show-me-the-honey

The beans are then hulled like in the other processing methods in order to get rid of the layer of parchment that forms over it. 


The hulled beans will pass through quality control once again, and then packed and shipped. 

How does honey coffee taste?

Honey process coffees can often be described as smooth and sweet, occasionally having a balanced acidity and body. They are quite desirable and can offer a very pleasant drinking experience. The sweetness can mostly be attributed to the mucilage that ferments on the beans during the drying stage, where just like in natural processing, the bean will absorb the sweetness from the layer of mucilage. It is also important to note that the coffee will not outright taste like honey either.

 *Disclaimer: This articles purpose is to give you a general overview of the topic and the methods have been simplified in order to give the reader a better understanding. There are far more complexities involved in the processing methods that were not talked about here and the stages can vary from origin to origin. 

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