What Does Processed Mean in Coffee Terms?

If you’re a coffee enthusiast, you may have come across the term “processed” when exploring different types of coffee. Understanding what this term means can provide valuable insights into the flavors and characteristics of the coffee you consume. In simple terms, the processing of coffee refers to the steps involved in transforming the raw coffee cherries into the dried green coffee beans ready for roasting.

1. Wet Processing

Also known as washed processing, this method involves removing the skin of the coffee cherry using water before drying the beans. Here’s a breakdown of the wet processing method:

  • The ripe coffee cherries are first harvested from the coffee plants.
  • Once harvested, the cherries are taken to a processing facility.
  • The cherries are sorted to remove any damaged or unripe cherries.
  • Next, the cherries undergo a thorough washing process to remove the skin and pulp.
  • The remaining beans, still covered in a layer called parchment, are then dried.

Wet processing is known to produce coffees that are cleaner and more vibrant in terms of flavor. It allows the natural acidity of the coffee to shine through, making it a preferred method for producing high-quality specialty coffees.

2. Dry Processing

Also known as natural processing, this method involves drying the coffee cherries with their skins intact. The process typically takes place under the sun. Here are the key steps involved in dry processing:

  • The ripe coffee cherries are picked from the coffee plants.
  • Instead of removing the skin, the cherries are spread out on large patios or raised beds to dry with their natural sugars intact.
  • During the drying process, the cherries are regularly turned to ensure even drying and prevent fermentation.
  • Once the cherries reach the desired moisture content, they are hulled to remove the dried skin and parchment layer, revealing the green coffee beans.

Dry processing is known to create coffees with a heavy body and a more rustic flavor profile. The natural sugars and fruitiness of the cherries can contribute to sweeter and fruitier flavors in the final cup.

3. Pulped Natural/Honey Processing

Pulped natural, commonly known as honey processing, is a method that combines elements of both wet and dry processing. It involves removing the skin of the coffee cherry but leaving some of the pulp to dry with the beans. Here’s how it works:

  • Ripe coffee cherries are harvested and taken to the processing facility.
  • After sorting, the cherries undergo a pulping process to remove the skin.
  • Instead of fully washing off the remaining pulp, the cherries are spread out to dry with some residue intact.
  • Once the beans reach the appropriate moisture level, the dried mucilage is mechanically removed, resulting in the green coffee beans.

Pulped natural processing often produces coffees with a balanced flavor profile, combining some of the brightness and acidity found in washed coffees with the sweetness and body typical of natural processed beans.

4. Semi-washed Processing

Semi-washed processing, also known as semi-dry processing or wet-hulled processing, is a method most commonly found in Indonesia. The process involves removing the skin of the cherries and drying them with a portion of the pulp still intact. Here’s how it works:

  • The ripe cherries are harvested and undergo a pulping process to remove the skin.
  • The partially pulped coffee cherries are then fermented briefly.
  • After fermentation, the cherries are washed, often with minimal water, to remove any remaining pulp.
  • They are then dried with the parchment layer still intact until they reach the desired moisture content.

Semi-washed processing can result in a unique flavor profile. It often produces earthy and more savory notes, along with a medium body.

5. Carbonic Maceration (Anaerobic Fermentation)

Carbonic maceration, sometimes referred to as anaerobic fermentation, is a relatively new processing method that has gained popularity in specialty coffee. This controlled fermentation process combines elements of both wet and dry processing. Here’s an overview:

  • Ripe cherries are harvested and placed in sealed fermentation tanks.
  • The tanks are filled with carbon dioxide (CO2) to create an oxygen-free environment.
  • The cherries undergo fermentation, allowing the CO2 to break down the cell structure and accelerate flavor development.
  • After fermentation, the cherries are dried, either through sun-drying or mechanical drying.

Carbonic maceration results in unique and complex flavors in the final cup. It often contributes to enhanced sweetness, vibrant acidity, and fruity notes.

In conclusion, understanding the different processing methods can help you appreciate the nuances and flavors present in your coffee. Experimenting with various processing styles can lead to exciting discoveries and a deeper appreciation for the art and science behind every cup.