From Planting to Process, the Life of a Coffee Bean—Part 2
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Welcome to part 2 of our series on farming and processing!
Last time we covered the basics of coffee farming. This week we're ready to talk processing! there's a lot to learn about processing, so we'll focus on the basics today and feature even more in depth looks at each method in later articles!
After beans are harvested, they're sent to processing stations not far from where they are farmed. Processing techniques vary, but the general purpose is to remove the shell and ferment the beans to ready them for roasting!
The first, and most common method of processing is washed/wet. First, the coffee cherries are added to a large tank of water. This allows the processors to separate good cherries from bad, as the bad fruit will sink while the good ones will float on top. After this, most of the cherries are removed from the bean inside through methods like pressing and filtration. After this process, usually some pulp remains on the bean. This remaining pulp is removed by fermenting the beans, and then washing them thoroughly with a large amount of water.
Following this washing, the beans are dried in the sun or with machines. By the time they are dry, their parchment skin becomes very dry and crumbles off easily. At this point, machines are used to hull the dry parchment off, and the beans are ready to be sent to roasters.
Washed processing is popular because it provides the purest coffee flavor. Most coffee you purchase is washed. This processing method does require large amounts of water and equipment, which can make it wasteful specifically in areas already affected by a lack of water.
Also known as dry processing, naturals are most common in Brazil, Ethiopia, Haiti, and Paraguay. Natural processing is simpler and less machine driven than a wet process, but it also creates a very strong tasting bean that many find too overwhelming.
First, cherries as sorted by hand, often using a sieve. This sorting process removes overripe or damaged cherries, as well as dirt, twigs, and leaves that may have stuck to cherries during harvesting. The cherries are then laid out in the sun, sometimes for up to 4 weeks. This drying process is occasionally machine assisted as well. In any case, getting the right dry time is the most important part to natural processing. The cherries are closely monitored, and frequently raked to prevent mildewing and promote even drying.
Finally, the dried cherries are sent to a mill, where the dried cherry and other outer layers are removed in one step by a hulling machine. The beans are then bagged and ready for transfer to roasters.
Honey processing provides a middle-ground in taste between the balance of a washed bean and the sometimes overwhelming fruitiness of a natural bean. The name comes from a sticky layer of mucilage left on the bean after pulping.
First, only the ripest beans are used for honey processing. These beans are pulped so that their outer layer of skin is removed, leaving the bean and the mucilage layer mentioned above. At this point, the beans are dried in a similar manner to natural process beans. Though while similar, the dry time is even more delicate here than with natural beans.
The coffee is carefully monitored and raked frequently for about a day to reach the desired moisture level. At this point the beans are then raked only once a day, and left to dry for another week or so. This is an arduous process that requires precise measurement by hand. After the drying is complete, the beans are milled similarly to the way natural process coffee is milled.
From there, all of these beans are sold to your favorite roasters! These roasters then work their magic on the coffee, and it's ready for you to enjoy. We'll talk more about roasting more in future segments!
Thanks so much for joining us for this series, and remember to make coffee you love!