We sure do spend a lot of time talking about processing but it impacts the cup in a big, big way so in a coffee husk, here is what it all means...processing encompasses every step that is done at origin from hand picking the cherries at harvest time to when it when it is dried milled and readied for shipment. The seed from the coffee cherry must be removed from the fruit that surrounds it. Three common methods are commonly used: washed, semi-washed and natural.
Washed Process or wet method:
The wet method makes a really clean cup of coffee that is crisp, delicate and showcases sparkling acidity.
The wet method (also called the washed method) requires the use of specific equipment and substantial quantities of water. When properly done, it ensures that the intrinsic qualities of the coffee beans are better preserved, producing a green coffee which is homogeneous and has few defective beans.
Even after careful harvesting, a certain number of partially dried and unripe cherries, as well as some stones and dirt, will be present among the ripe cherries. Usually what happens is cherries are floated in water and the ripe cherries will sink to the bottom for processing and the unripe cherries will float. (Hence the bean defect Floater) Cleaning can be done by washing the cherries in tanks filled with flowing water. Screens may also be used to improve the separation between the ripe and unripe, large and small, cherries.
After sorting and cleaning, the pulp is removed from the cherry. This operation is the key difference between the dry and the wet methods, since in the wet method the pulp of the fruit is separated from the beans before the drying stage. The pulping is done by a machine which squeezes the cherries between fixed and moving surfaces. The flesh and the skin of the fruit are left on one side and the beans, enclosed in their mucilaginous parchment covering, on the other. The clearance between the surfaces is adjusted to avoid damage to the beans. The pulping operation should also be done as soon as possible after harvesting to avoid any deterioration of the fruit which might affect the quality of the beans.
The pulped beans go on to vibrating screens which separate them from any unpulped or imperfectly pulped cherries, as well as from any large pieces of pulp that might remain. From the screens, the separated pulped beans then pass through water-washing channels where a further flotation separation takes place before they are sent to the next stage.
Because the pulping is done by mechanical means it normally leaves some residual flesh as well as the sticky mucilage adhering to the parchment surrounding the beans. This has to be completely removed to avoid contamination of the coffee beans by products resulting from the degradation of the mucilage. The newly pulped beans are placed in large fermentation tanks in which the mucilage is broken down by natural enzymes until it is dispersible, when it can be washed away. Unless the fermentation is carefully monitored, the coffee can acquire undesirable, sour flavours. For most coffees mucilage removal takes between 24 and 36 hours, depending on the temperature, thickness of the mucilage layer and concentration of the enzymes. The end of the fermentation is assessed by feel, as the parchment surrounding the beans loses its slimy texture and acquires a rougher "pebbly" feel.
When the fermentation is complete, the coffee is thoroughly washed with clean water in tanks or in special washing machines. The wet parchment coffee at this stage consists of approximately 57% moisture. To reduce the moisture to a maximum 12.5% the parchment coffee is dried either in the sun, in a mechanical dryer, or by a combination of the two. The sun-drying is done on extensive flat concrete or brick areas, known as patios, or on drying tables made of fine-mesh wire netting. The beans are laid out in a layer of 2 to 10 cm, and turned frequently to ensure even drying. Sun-drying should take from 8 to 10 days, depending upon ambient temperature and humidity. Coffee dries more quickly if raised on tables because of the upward draught of warm air. The use of hot-air drying machines becomes necessary to speed up the process in large plantations where, at the peak of the harvesting period, there might be much more coffee than can be effectively dried on the terraces. However, the process must be carefully controlled to achieve satisfactory and economical drying without any damage to quality.
After drying, the wet-processed coffee, or parchment coffee as it is commonly known, is stored and remains in this form until shortly before export.
The final stages of preparation of the coffee, known as 'curing', usually take place at a special plant just before the coffee is sold for export. The coffee is hulled, to remove the parchment, then passes through a number of cleaning, screening, sorting and grading operations which are common to both wet- and dry-processed coffee. Electronic sorting machines may be used to remove defective beans that cannot be distinguished by eye.
The dry method makes for a wild and rustic cup! Heavy body, subdued brightness and lots of jammy fruits!
The dry method (also called the natural method) is the oldest, simplest and requires little machinery.
The method involves drying the whole cherry. There are variations on how the process may be carried out, depending on the size of the plantation, the facilities available and the final quality desired. The three basic steps, cleaning, drying and hulling, are described below.
Firstly, the harvested cherries are usually sorted and cleaned, to separate the unripe, overripe and damaged cherries and to remove dirt, soil, twigs and leaves. This can be done by winnowing, which is commonly done by hand, using a large sieve. Any unwanted cherries or other material not winnowed away can be picked out from the top of the sieve. The ripe cherries can also be separated by flotation in washing channels close to the drying areas.
The coffee cherries are spread out in the sun, either on large concrete or brick patios or on matting raised to waist height on trestles. As the cherries dry, they are raked or turned by hand to ensure even drying. It may take up to 4 weeks before the cherries are dried to the 12.5% maximum moisture content, depending on the weather conditions. On larger plantations, machine-drying is sometimes used to speed up the process after the coffee has been pre-dried in the sun for a few days.
The drying operation is the most important stage of the process, since it affects the final quality of the green coffee. Coffee that has been overdried will become brittle and produce too many broken beans during hulling (broken beans are considered defective beans). Coffee that has not been dried sufficiently will be too moist and prone to rapid deterioration caused by the attack of fungi and bacteria.
The dried cherries are stored in bulk in special silos until they are sent to the mill where hulling, sorting, grading and bagging take place. All the outer layers of the dried cherry are removed in one step by the hulling machine.
The dry method is used for about 90 percent of the Arabica coffee produced in Brazil, most of the coffees produced in Ethiopia, Haiti and Paraguay, as well as for some Arabicas produced in India and Ecuador. Almost all Robustas are processed by this method. It is not practical in very rainy regions, where the humidity of the atmosphere is too high or where it rains frequently during harvesting.
Pulped natural coffee can have more body and lower acidity than the washed process, and a cleaner, more uniform cup than the natural process. They are sweet and balanced.
Honey coffee is a process where some of the mucilage that covers the bean is left in it by less washing. Semi-washed coffees are dried with the mucilage clinging to the outside of the parchment. When it is well done the process generates an amazing, sweeter taste that intensifies the chocolate nutty aroma/taste of our Dota/Tarrazu. The mucilage that covers the bean is packed with sugars and that is what generates the different taste. During the drying, specially if you do it under the sun like us, the parchment will take on a slight orange color. The perfect stage of the harvest to do the honey coffee is the center of the harvest, where the coffee cherry is naturally packed with more sugars, it oozes the honey.
Like any process, leaving the honey on can spoil the taste of coffee. in traditional milling, the coffee beans have the mucilage taken off by a process of fermentation, usually about 10 hours. this process makes or breaks the quality bec can excessively ferment. In my process, we wash the mucilage off the bean with a centrifuge, as part of the milling. So we only need to set up the amount of water on the washer and voila, an amazing coffee taste comes out.
WET HULLED/SEMI WASHED:
Rustic and earthy the semi washed/wet hulled method compliments many of the unique characteristics of the prized coffees of Asia and the Pacific.