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What Is Coffee Processing?

Mozzo Coffee | 28 February, 2024

Believe it or not, but coffee is actually a fruit and coffee beans are not actually beans at all. Rather they are seeds from a coffee cherry. There are different methods when it comes to coffee processing, each involving carefully removing the various layers of the coffee cherry. Here we look at different coffee processing methods and how they influence the overall flavour and characteristics of the coffee.

Anatomy of a coffee bean

What Are the Coffee Processing Methods? 

If you’re someone who loves coffee, especially speciality coffee, you have probably spotted the terms ‘washed coffee’, ‘naturally processed coffee’ or ‘honey processed’ on your coffee bag labels. These are the three most common coffee processing methods. How coffee is processed influences the overall flavour. The main differences between all three methods lie in the treatment of the coffee cherries and the presence of mucilage during drying. 

Every coffee farm has a unique processing method and it varies from producer to producer. Processing methods are chosen by the coffee producers based on their available resources, and the method that best showcases the unique flavour profiles of their coffee.

Washed Coffee Processing

Washed coffee processing, also known as wet processing, produces coffees that are known for their clarity, brightness and complexity of flavour. They’re favourite among speciality coffee drinkers who appreciate the nuanced flavours and aromas that washed coffee processing brings out. By removing the outer layers of the coffee cherry, washed processing allows the natural flavours of the beans to shine through. The result is a clean, bright cup of coffee with a higher acidity.

Washed coffees flavour profile:

  • Lighter in body
  • High in acidity 
  • Retain citrus and floral flavours
  • Clean and bright

Processing method:

  • Coffee cherries are harvested and sorted before processing
  • The outer skin and fruit pulp are mechanically or manually removed through pulping, leaving the coffee beans covered in mucilage
  • The mucilage covered beans are fermented in water tanks to break down the remaining fruit layer
  • After fermentation, the beans are washed thoroughly to remove all traces of mucilage
  • The washed beans are then dried on raised beds or patios under the sun until they reach the desired moisture content. 
  • Coffee is then taken to a mill where the parchment is removed from the beans.

Natural Coffee Processing

Unlike the washed method, natural processing is also known as dry coffee processing. This involves drying the whole coffee cherry, including the pulp and the skin, in the sun for several weeks before removing the outer layers. This is often considered the most challenging, riskier and labour-intensive process. 

During this drying period, the coffee cherries are dried whole, allowing the beans to absorb the fruit’s sugars. This flavour profile can range from berry and citrus to tropical fruit coffee notes, depending on the variety of coffee and the growing conditions. The resulting coffee is often full-bodied and has a lower acidity than washed coffee.

Natural coffees flavour profile:

  • Sweeter in flavour
  • Less acidic
  • Sometimes earthy and richer in body
  • Fruity notes

Processing method:

  • Coffee cherries are harvested and sorted before processing. 
  • The whole coffee cherries, including the skin and mucilage, are spread out on drying beds to dry naturally under the sun. 
  • During the drying process, the cherries ferment, and the beans absorb sugars and flavours from the fruit. 
  • Once the cherries are fully dried, the outer skin and dry fruit pulp are mechanically removed through hulling. 
  • Natural coffee is characterised by its fruity, sweet and often intense flavour profile with lower acidity and a heavier body. 

 Honey Processing

Honey processing is a hybrid of the washed and natural methods and it doesn’t involve honey. In this method, the coffee cherries are partially stripped of their outer layers, leaving some of the fruit and mucilage which has a sticky, honey-like substance hence the name. The honey coffee process offers various levels of mucilage retention, resulting in different taste profiles, from light and delicate to more intense and fruity flavours.

Honey coffees flavour profile:

  • Smooth body
  • Medium acidity
  • Tropical and acidic notes
  • Sweet and bright

Processing method:

  • Coffee cherries are harvested and sorted before processing
  • The outer skin of the cherries is removed through pulping, leaving the beans covered in mucilage. 
  • Depending on the desired honey process variant (white, yellow, red, black, honey) varying amounts of mucilage are left on the beans.
  • The mucilage-covered beans are spread out on drying beds or patios to dry naturally under the sun. 
  • The mucilage ferments during the drying process, imparting unique flavours to the beans. 
  • Once dried, the outer dry mucilage is mechanically removed through huling. 
  • Honey-processed coffee exhibits a range of flavour profiles, with sweetness and fruitiness similar to natural coffee, but often with a cleaner taste and more balanced acidity.

Experimental Coffee Processing

Over the past few years, coffee producers have been exploring different coffee processing methods such as carbonic maceration, anaerobic and thermal shock, to enhance the complexity and intensity of their coffee. While these techniques are exciting, they can be risky and labour-intensive for producers, and it’s important to consider the impact on them.

Carbonic maceration process for coffee 

Carbonic maceration, which is borrowed from winemaking, involves placing coffee cherries in a sealed container with carbon dioxide. As they ferment in the absence of oxygen, unique fruity flavours are produced. 

Anaerobic coffee process  

Similarly, anaerobic processing involves sealing the cherries with very little oxygen, resulting in complex flavours with balanced acidity and sweetness. 

Thermal Shock process 

Finally, thermal shock is a process of rapidly heating and cooling the cherries, which leads to a distinctive flavour profile.

Discover your favourite Mozzo coffee blend

From natural to washed processing methods, find the right cup of Mozzo for you. Whether you’re a fan of bold, earthy flavours or prefer something more delicate and floral. Explore our coffee selection boxes to find the right cup of coffee for your everyday cup.