A Word On Processing

The Brew Dog Blog

A Word On Processing 

Processing is perhaps a bit of an obscure concept in regards to coffee, not many of us think much about how coffee makes its way over to us, or what the food goes through before it is even ready to be roasted and packaged, or served in a café. 

The truth of the matter is, coffee goes through an insane amount of ‘getting ready’ before it is actually ready to be consumed, and processing is one of the most important factors in determining how a coffee will taste. 

Coffee is a fruit, after all, and in order to access the seeds, or beans, we need to first remove the fruit. This is what processing is, in the world of coffee. We’re not adding chemicals, or doing anything weird or sketchy. In fact, almost ALL coffee is organic, due to the way it has been grown and processed for years. 

Read along to learn a bit more about the two most commonly used methods, and why knowing about them can help you find the taste you’re looking for!

Seems A Bit Dry…

Give me a pinch more of your time before you decide this isn’t worth knowing, aight? 

The word dry is a good word to use, however, maybe not how you might think. The oldest and longest standing method for processing coffee is know as the natural, or dry process. This process uses absolutely no water, and is often employed in poorer countries, or those without access to water; though those tend to go hand in hand. 

In the dry process, coffee cherries are picked and then sorted for quality. They are then laid out, with the fruit still fully intact, encasing the seeds (or beans, you know what I mean), in order to start the drying process. 

Sometimes large patios are used, which allow easy access for raking and other methods of rotating massive quantities of the cherries; only one side is able to fully dry at a time, though, meaning very close attention must be paid in order to prevent the fruit from spoiling, literally rotting, and imparting unwanted flavors into the seeds. 

Raised beds are also often employed, which allow for maximum airflow and help to prevent unwanted fermentation, though smaller amounts of coffee are able to be dried at any given time, compared to utilizing a large patio. 

Hold up, fermentation? Heck yeah, fermentation. Dry processed coffee’s almost always cary a heavy acidity, and fruit forward profile, due to the fact the fruit that is left on the seeds is quite literally infusing flavor into the them. This creates a love/hate relationship with the method, as a lot of people find winey, or fruity, coffee to be off putting, and instead prefer a nice washed coffee reminiscent of chocolate, and other heavier notes. 

Wait, what does washed mean? Let’s dive into some deeper waters and find out!

I’m Feeling Kinda Washed Over… 

Don’t worry, we’re almost through. 

The washed process, as you may have already guessed, uses water to completely (or partially) remove the fruit from the seeds in order to set them up for the rest of their processing. Machinery is also utilized, to help remove the various parts of the fruit encasing the seeds. 

This, of course, happens after the coffee has been picked and then sorted for quality. Not all coffee is grown equal, and making sure there are no defects in the coffee you are processing is the first step in creating quality coffee. 

After the coffee has been sorted for quality, and then pulped appropriately, the fermentation is started. The coffees are generally stored in vats of water, for anywhere between 18-24 hours, and occasionally longer, where micro-organisms begin creating enzymes that break down what fruit is left on the seeds. 

Afterwards, the coffee must be dried. Akin to the natural process, the sun can be used, though the coffee’s are more prone to other outside microorganisms joining in the fun and making problems. Drying machinery is often employed to circumvent this. 

The washed process, therefore, relies more on bringing out the natural flavor found inside the bean, and is attempting to almost prevent the processing method from effecting the end flavor. Washed coffees usually have a very clean and bright flavor, and are lighter in body. 

Hang Me Out Already 

Okay, we did it! What did we learn, though?

To recap, natural or dry processed coffees rely on close monitoring of a very active fermentation process, with the fruit still intact on the seeds in order to impart large fruit forward profiles. Heavy bodied, syrupy, and encompassing at times. No water is used, and it is the oldest method we have around. 

Washed coffees are clean, bright, and true. This method uses large amounts of water to remove most of the fruit, and then a small amount of healthy fermentation, again using water, to break down what’s left over. After drying, the seeds are all that’s left. 

So, do you prefer intricate and wild flavors found in naturals, or more comfortable and easy drinking, found in washed? While these profiles aren’t always guaranteed, they’re almost always a given. Paying attention to the way a coffee is processed will only help ensure you enjoy the coffee you purchase.