How is Coffee Processed?

 

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When we write about a coffee process at SteepFuze, it's usually about the process by which we infuse our coffee beans with cannabinoids. So for this edition of The SteepFuze Scoop, we thought we’d talk about coffee processing in more general terms so you can learn a little more about coffee production and the flavors you’ll find in your cup. All coffee beans begin as a coffee cherry grown on a coffee tree and require a fair bit of work to be made ready for brewing. Coffee processing refers to the method by which the skins and pulp of the coffee cherry are removed and the beans dried. There are four principal methods in which coffee is processed: dry processed, washed, semi-washed, and honey process.

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Dry Processed

Dry processing (commonly called “natural process”) is the oldest form of processing coffee and it began over 500 years ago! It is a pretty simple method in which the coffee cherries are harvested off of the coffee trees and left out in the sun. For up to four weeks, the fruit dries up while still on the seed and then it is mechanically removed once it has completely dried out. Dry processing is common in countries with limited water supply. These natural process coffees tend to be brighter with more citrus and fruit flavors pervading given that the coffee was dried inside of the fruit. Ethiopian coffee’s are a prime example of a very fruit-forward natural process bean from a country with limited water. When infusing natural process coffees, we like to use extracts that have a fruitier flavor profile and tend to be rich in the lighter, sweeter terpenes like myrcene and limonene. 

 Washed / Semi-Washed

Washed (also referred to as “wet-processed” or “fully washed”) coffee is a newer method of processing coffee and tends to be more pervasive in countries with prevalent water supplies. Wet processing coffee is preferable to cultivators in many instances because it has a lower risk of contamination or molding since the pulp of the coffee cherries is removed right after harvesting. During wet processing, the skin of the cherries is removed using a machine called a depulper. Afterwards, the coffee beans are placed in fermentation tanks where the remaining flesh of the cherry (called the mucilage) ferments and loses its stickiness and adhesion to the bean. Finally, the remaining mucilage is “washed” off before the beans are dried in the sun or in drying machines until the moisture content drops below 11%. Semi-Washed (also called “semi-washed” or “pulped natural”) coffee is similar to fully washed coffee except that instead of fermenting the beans, the mucilage is removed using high pressure water cannons. Semi-washed coffee requires much less water so it has a much lower environmental impact. Since it is a more controlled process, washed coffee tends to have a wider variety of subtle flavors so the flavor profile of the extract we use for wet processed coffees varies a little more. With less fruit tones and a lower acidity in washed coffees, we tend to like extracts rich in the earthier tasting terpenes like beta caryophyllene and humulene.

Honey Process

Honey process coffee is the youngest form of coffee processing and it is rapidly growing in popularity. Sort of a misnomer, there is no honey actually involved in the processing of the coffee. The mucilage surrounding the coffee seeds is very sticky and sugary and has come to be known as the “honey” of the coffee cherry in certain Latin American countries. During the honey process, the skin of the cherries is removed but ~40%-100% of the mucilage is left on the beans. The beans are then left to dry with some of the fruity, sugary mucilage fermenting on the surface during the process. How long the coffee takes to dry will determine the degree of fermentation that occurs and thus, the flavor profile of the coffee. Coffees that are dried quickly in the sun are sometimes referred to as “yellow honey” coffees because they have the lightest color of the honey coffees and have undergone the least fermentation. “Red honey” coffee is shade dried and undergoes more fermentation leading to a darker color. Finally, there is the illustrious “black honey” coffee which is dried in near dark conditions yielding the darkest color from the most fermentation. Black honey coffee is the most labor intensive and expensive of the honey process coffees. Honey process coffees have a variety of flavors depending on the color but tend to be on the sweeter side with a wide variety of flavor notes. SteepFuze has yet to infuse a honey process coffee to date but might have one sooner than you think. Stay tuned…

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