If you're a coffee enthusiast in Minnesota, you've likely come across terms like natural processed, washed, or honey-processed coffees. But what do these terms truly signify? Different coffee processing methods, including those used by Minnesota coffee roasters, create distinct flavor profiles. It's essential to grasp the fundamentals of coffee processing before selecting your next coffee bean bag. Here's a brief guide to the most common processing methods.
Natural Processed Coffees
The natural process, also known as the dry process, is the oldest and most traditional approach to coffee processing. It's notably uncomplicated, requiring no machinery or water. However, producing natural processed coffees can be challenging due to their reliance on favorable weather conditions for drying.
In the natural processing method, coffee cherries are left to air dry until they reach the desired moisture level. During this period, the cherries lose water content and shrink in size. Once they achieve the required moisture level, the dried cherries undergo hulling, a process that removes the outer layer and unveils the green coffee bean inside.
Drying coffee cherries in open air often results in a distinctive fruity flavor profile. Nevertheless, this method carries the risk of fermentation, potentially imparting a more acidic taste. Despite this, many coffee aficionados relish the vibrant and zesty notes associated with this processing method.
Washed Processed Coffees
The wet process, also called washed coffee, is the second most common coffee processing method. Originating in Ethiopia during the 1930s, this technique employs water to separate coffee beans from the pulp.
Washed coffees involve immersing coffee beans in water-filled tanks for a duration of 12 to 36 hours. This step effectively eliminates any residual fruit residue and pulp. Subsequently, the coffee cherries undergo a de-pulping process, which removes the skin and flesh, leaving behind the green coffee bean.
Following the washing, the beans are spread on elevated beds or tables and left to sun-dry for approximately two weeks. Once dried, they undergo sorting before being roasted. Washed coffees generally offer a cleaner taste compared to natural coffees, with fewer fruity flavors that may result from fermentation during drying.
Honey Processed Coffees
The honey process is a variation of the natural method, developed relatively recently in Costa Rica during the 1970s. In this approach, only part of the fruit surrounding the coffee bean is removed before drying, allowing some of the fruit's sugars to be absorbed by the bean, resulting in a sweeter flavor.
To create honey processed coffees, coffee cherries undergo a de-pulping process similar to washed coffees. However, in this case, some of the mucilage (sticky substance) from the fruit remains attached to the bean. The beans are then spread out in thin layers and sun-dried for about two weeks. After drying, they are hulled and sorted before roasting.
Honey processed coffees offer a balance between natural and washed coffees in terms of complexity. This means that even after roasting, honey processed coffees retain some sweetness and body from the fruit.
Other Less Common Processes
Aside from the three primary methods, there are lesser-known coffee processing techniques such as anaerobic fermentation, carbonic maceration, and wet hulling.
- Anaerobic fermentation involves sealing freshly picked coffee cherries in an oxygen-free environment, encouraging unique flavors through bacterial growth.
- Carbonic maceration, found mainly in Central America, entails placing coffee cherries in sealed containers filled with carbon dioxide to encourage bacterial growth, resulting in fruity or floral notes.
- Wet hulling, prevalent in Indonesia, involves removing the outer layer of wet coffee cherries before drying, often yielding earthy flavors.
As you can see, the journey from coffee cherries to your morning cup is more intricate than you might have imagined. Different processing methods create distinct flavors, whether fruity or earthy. So, next time you pick up a bag of coffee beans at your local roaster, take a moment to discover how those beans were processed—you might find your new favorite cup of coffee!