There’s so much more to coffee than the brown beverage that reaches our cups. From the moment coffee is planted, it embarks on a long and bumpy road of quality checks and enhancement processes that if we were to taste a bean in its original form, we would not recognize its taste or even colour for that matter.
Once the cherries are picked they reach an important point on their journey – the processing methods! Up until these point, the flavour of the bean is influenced by geography, climate, neighbouring plantations, but the processing method choice will define even further its final profile and quality.
There are three main methods. They are hugely influenced by tradition, the country of origin of the beans, the weather and so on. Let’s have a look at them:
Dry processing: depended vastly on the weather, this method is commonly used in countries where rainfall is scarce. Most coffees from Brazil, Indonesia and Ethiopia are processed this way.
Once the beans are picked, they are sorted and sun dried until the beans reach the desirable level of moisture to assure a sweet, smooth and heavy bodied coffee, that can take up to four weeks.
The correct level of moisture is also important to prevent the action of bacteria and fungi therefore minimizing loss, as you can see it is not as simple as the name suggests.
Wet processing: claimed by many to be the best way to process the beans. It is relatively new. It involves removing the four layers around the bean to achieve a cleaner, fruitier and vibrant flavour. Washing the pulp off results in a balanced level of acidity, indispensable for gourmet coffees.
Semi-dried/ semi-washed processing: in this processing method the skin of the coffee is removed either mechanically or through fermentation and the mucilage – which if you may wonder, is just a fancy name for the flesh of the coffee fruit – may or may not be removed. In the latter alternative, the coffee sits for a day before being dried.
Defining the best method is subjective as each one serves a specific purpose in achieving a certain profile, meeting the needs of the producer and adjusting to the climate conditions of each region.