Myth-busting: Is all coffee made the same way?
While terroir, climate and roast levels have a lot to do with how your coffee tastes, how the beans are processed after they’re picked can be truly transformative.
From stripping all of the fruit from the bean before drying to leaving just the right amount of fruit intact to bring out sweetness or acidity, producers can draw out different flavour notes and profiles.
There are three main processing methods used by coffee producers across the world, and each affects the taste of the coffee bean in different ways.
Method #1. Dry processing
Sometimes called natural processing, dry processing uses the sun’s rays to remove the coffee bean from the fruit.
Coffee cherries are picked and spread out on tables, raised beds or brick, being turned regularly so they don’t ferment, rot or go mouldy. Once the cherries are dry, the skin and flesh is removed and the green coffee beans are rested, before being sent on to be roasted.
Dry processing brings out fruity berry flavours, natural sweetness and flavour notes similar to those you’d find in red wine, but can also produce a slightly fermented flavour that can divide opinion.
If you want to try dry processed coffees, Brazil and Ethiopia are worth exploring.
Method #2. Wet processed
Also known as the washed process, this method takes the flesh off the coffee bean before they’re dried.
Once the beans have had the flesh removed - or been ‘depulped’ - by a machine, they’re soaked in water and fermented to remove any flesh that’s left over. This can take anywhere between 24 and 72 hours. The coffee beans are then washed and can either be left to dry naturally, or dried by machine.
Wet processed coffees tend to have bright acidity and crisp, complex flavours, similar to white wine.
If you want to try wet processed coffees, Kenya and Ethiopia have some great examples.
Method #3. Honey processed
The honey process is a hybrid of dry and wet processes and you’ll sometimes hear it referred to as the pulped natural process. Coffee cherries are mechanically depulped with some flesh left on the beans before they go onto into the sun to dry.
This means there’s less risk of the beans becoming over-fermented, but the flesh adds sweetness and body. It can actually taste as though honey has been added to the coffee, in flavour and mouthfeel (though the ‘honey’ actually refers to the stickiness of the beans as they dry out).
Different producers leave different amounts of flesh on their coffee beans, and these levels are categorised as black, red, yellow or white. Black have more flesh left on, which gives them flavours closest to dry processed coffee, while white has less, which gives it a finished taste similar to wet processed coffee.
If you want to try honey processed coffees, Costa Rican and some Brazilian coffees are good to try.
Want to take your coffee knowledge to the next level? Have a look at our other blogs to learn everything there is to know about coffee.