The 3 Main Ways Coffee Beans Are Processed

So much goes into the morning cup of coffee that so many of us enjoy. Where the coffee is grown, also known as terroir, influences the flavor notes we perceive in the cup. Coffee beans are sourced from numerous countries around the world. Unlocking and enhancing the potential flavors of green, unroasted coffee beans, which are not particularly appetizing prior to roasting, coffee beans are roasted on a spectrum ranging from light to dark.

According to the National Coffee Association, coffee beans are processed immediately following the harvest of ripe coffee cherries from shade-grown coffee plants, long before they reach the roaster (NCA). How the beans are handled or processed has a significant effect on the flavor of the coffee. There are three primary methods for transforming coffee cherries into coffee beans: dry processing, wet processing, and honey processing. Understanding the distinctions between these techniques can provide a framework for exploring different flavors and help you determine which coffees you prefer.

According to the Paulig Barista Institute, the purpose of processing coffee beans is to separate the beans from the entire coffee cherry and also to dry the beans. Spreading ripe coffee cherries out in their entirety to dry in the sun on tables or patios is the earliest method of processing. Turning the cherries frequently while they are drying prevents mold or rot. This natural method is utilized primarily in countries such as Ethiopia and Brazil, where coffee farmers lack access to sufficient fresh water.

Once the coffee cherries have dried, Eater explains that the beans are hulled to remove the dried cherry flesh and parchment that surrounds them. Because the cherry pulp remains on the beans as they dry, coffee processed in this manner can absorb flavors of tropical fruit and strawberry, as well as hints of black tea, bergamot, chocolate, and blueberry. Some coffee drinkers may dislike the strong winey and fermented aromas of coffee that has been dry processed. The dry process can yield beautiful and robust coffee beans if managed with care.

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