The word "processed" gets a bad rap in today's world, especially in the food and beverage industry. We have become used to associating it with chemicals, ready-to-eat foods, and factories. However, in the world of coffee, this couldn't be further from the truth.
The coffee beans from which we extract our daily drink are the seeds of a small, shiny berry, also known as “coffee cherry”. Inside each cherry there are usually two seeds. This means that, to prepare a cup of coffee, the first thing we must do after harvest is remove the seeds from the fruit.
Each coffee fruit is made up of different layers: the outer skin (pulp); mucilage, a sweet and sticky coating; a paper-like layer called parchment; and the silver film, a membrane that covers the two seeds. So, to get it we need to go through a process before drying the beans. This process is carried out in a "beneficio" wich are small or large facilities, with the appropriate machines.
There are three ways in which coffee has been processed: washed (we call it 'Classic'), honey and natural.
Wash Process (Classic Coffee)
A washed coffee is a coffee from which the peel or pulp and the mucilage have been removed before drying begins. Only the parchment and the silver film remain. The flavors that remain in a washed coffee are more acidic and a much lighter body.
Drying in this type of process generally takes around 7 days.
This process takes the name of honey not because it is made with honey or uses this ingredient at some point, but because of the caramelized texture that remains in the coffee beans.
In the honey process, part of the fruit is removed before drying (the skin and sometimes part of the mucilage) and the other part is removed afterwards (the rest of the mucilage and the other layers). Honey-processed coffees absorb those sugars contained in the mucilage. These "honeys" provide sweetness and balance to the coffee. Honey processed coffees generally contain great sweetness and acidity balanced with fruity notes. The flavors are normally less intense than those of a natural, but their clarity and definition is much more noticeable and pronounced.
Drying in this type of process generally takes 15 to 20 days.
In natural coffee we dry the whole fruit, wich means that the skin, the pulp, and the musilage are removed after drying. Instead of taking the coffee out of its fruit, we leave it there. The natural process allows the coffee to absorb 100% of everything that the fruit has to give it.
Drying in this type of process generally takes 20 days, although depending on weather conditions, it could take up to four weeks.
Broadly speaking, this is the process:
First, the harvested cherries are classified and cleaned, to separate those that are not ripe or are damaged or affected by an insect.
This can be done by hand or also in washing channels, where the defective or green cherries float (due to their low density) and the ripe ones go to the bottom of the channel (due to their higher density).
The cherries are then laid out on drying patios (usually) or on mats or beds raised from the floor (African beds). As the cherries dry, they must be moved so that they all dry equally.