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Coffee Processing & Your Cup

HOW DOES COFFEE PROCESSING AFFECT THE FLAVORS IN YOUR CUP?

You’ve just opened up your new bag of single origin coffee and begin to examine the bag of coffee before you. “Coffee Process: Natural.” What does that mean, “natural”? As opposed to what, artificial? GMO?

We’re here to assure you that, no, this doesn’t mean our coffees that don’t say natural are some lab-concocted faux-coffee. We’re also writing this to fill you in on some of the technical language you may see on the bags of specialty coffee you buy, and how that can inform the taste you can expect in your cup.

Planting Coffee Seeds in Honduras

Coffee Processing Terminology

Though we commonly refer to coffee as “beans”, it’s a bit of a misnomer: the coffee bean most people know is really one half of the seed of the coffee fruit, or cherry, which grows on a small tropical tree.

The roasty chocolate-caramel sweetness of our French Roast blend or the pleasant acidity and mild nuttiness of our past Mexico Oaxaca la Cañada are developed partly by our roasting profiles, but would be impossible without their unique origins and, most importantly, their processing at origin. (See our Sourcing page for insight into our supply chain.)

What is Coffee Processing?:

Processing refers to the process of taking a freshly picked coffee cherry and making it a dry, green, unroasted coffee seed. There are a variety of ways to process coffee and these can vary based on the intention of the producer, the resources available, and the surrounding climate. There are three main types of processing and each type will influence the final flavor of the cup.

Three Types of Coffee Processing: 
Natural or Dry Process

The coffee is picked and subsequently sun-dried in the full cherry. This type of processing can produce a cup of coffee that is sweet and dominated by fruit flavors. Blueberry and strawberry are common flavors found in coffee processed this way, as keeping the cherry around the seed alters the seed’s fermentation. 

For example, our Ethiopia Tiqiset Wakqo from a few months back, and our Nicaragua Roger & Isabel Natural. Natural dry processed coffees are the traditional method in many regions without reliable water access.in.

Washed or Wet Process

In this process, the cherry is removed before the coffee is fermented with the aid of water. The fermentation helps remove the sticky mucilage layer from the seed before the coffee is dried. The vast majority — if not all — of our blends contain washed coffees. We have had many washed coffees currently in our recent lineup, including Rwanda Sholi, Ethiopia Nano Genji, Peru Percy Rojas Torres, and others. Washed coffees are often described as having “clean” flavors and a balanced body.

Honey / Semiwashed

The coffee is depulped and then laid out to dry with the mucilage layer intact. This process can produce flavors that closely resemble a natural or washed coffee. This depends on the producers intended outcome for the coffee. A recent example would be the Costa Rica Roger Urena Hidalgo White Honey we had at the start of 2020. The level of fruitiness is dependent on the amount of mucilage left on the seed when drying, and this is referenced by the color that you see in front of the process: white, yellow, red, and black. White is closest to washed and black is closest to natural. 

Flavor Profiles from Different Coffee Processes:
  • Washed process: Really clean acidity and nuanced flavors
  • Natural process: Big body and intense fruity flavors
  • Honey process: A little more fruity pop mixed with a nuanced flavor profile

 

WHAT COFFEE PROCESS IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
How does coffee processing affect flavor: Washed has clean acidity and nuanced flavors, honey leaves more fruitiness with a nuanced flavor profile, and natural leaves big bold fruit flavors

 

 

In spring 2020, we had a very special release: 3thiopia. One of our most popular special releases ever, this triple Ethiopian blend was a wild roasters’ experiment gone delightfully right. The taste experience went a little like this:

  • First sip: taste the clean, stone fruit notes of the washed coffee component.
  • Second sip: hone in on the intense fruity burst of the natural.
  • Sip number three: enjoy the watermelon-like, juicy acidity of the honey process.

We were thrilled with how this blend turned out, and are planning annual releases because it is such an interesting way to see all that coffee processing has to offer.

3thiopia Ethiopia Processing Blend

Want to give them a taste?

Want to try all three coffee processes side by side? Stay on the lookout for our Single Origin Sampler. We list out the coffees that are currently in the box, and we try to provide a good mix of origins and processes. Nothing brings out the characteristics of coffee like context, and this box provides just that. Host a little home cupping session, or just enjoy a tasty tour for one through coffee’s technical side.

Sections of a Coffee Cherry
Graph Showing the Stages of Specialty Coffee Processing
Terminology for the processing of coffee

Separation: This step takes place after the coffee has been harvested. This step is done to remove any visual defects or unwanted cherry before processing begins. 

Hulling: This step occurs after the coffee has been dried. Hulling is the process of removing the parchment layer from the coffee seed utilizing a huller. In the case of Natural coffees, Hulling also removes what’s left of the entire cherry.

Grading: A small sample (approx. 300grams) of coffee will be taken and graded. The grading process is looking to determine the number and type of defects that exist in the lot of coffee being graded.

Polishing: This can be an optional step during the milling process. Polishing is the act of removing any additional silverskin that has made it through the hulling process. 

Sorting: This step removes any debris, such as stones or twigs; detectable defects; and separates the coffee into a more uniform size range.

Written by Yosef Rosen and Andrew McCaslin

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READ NEXT:

SPIDER CHARTS AND FLAVOR CALLS: HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR NEXT SINGLE ORIGIN COFFEE

Choosing Your Next Single Origin Coffee | Kaldi's Coffee Blog

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