There are several processes and each coffee farm will do it their way. However, there are three main processes that make it easier for everyone in the coffee industry to understand what we’re talking about.
- Natural (dry):
This involves leaving the entire coffee cherry to dry in the sun, allowing it to draw in all the flavours of the fruit. In order for the coffee cherries not to spoil, they are raked and turned throughout the day and covered at night or if there is rain or storms. It takes from 3 to 6 weeks until the moisture level is from 10-12%. After that it is hulled and sent off.
It is the most traditional method of processing coffee and it’s the most environmentally friendly since it does not use water. It originated in places where water was not easy to access and it works best in low humidity. There are also issues with this method like for instance: if the coffee cherries are not raked enough, they can spoil; and also the resulting beans are often inconsistent in flavour.
The flavours of this type of method turns out to be a full body, almost winey texture and also lasting and intense flavour.
- Washed (wet):
In this method, the cherries are removed from the seeds before the drying process. Once this is done, the seeds are moved to a tank where the remaining mucilage is broken down by fermentation. Then, the seeds are washed again with water to remove the mucilage from the seeds. After this, the seeds are dried in the sun on patios, raised beds, or in machines. Once dry, they are ready to be sent off.
It is the most reliable in terms of consistency in flavour and the quickest. The issue is the amount of water that they use.
The body is lighter than the natural method and has a cleaner texture, with more acidity and more crisp flavours.
- Honey (mix):
The name comes from how sticky the beans get during this process. First, the cherries are removed from the seeds and then directly left to dry in sun beds. Because the mucilage is still on, there is some fermentation that occurs and this is where the stickiness is coming from.
This method is particularly popular in Costa Rica right now, but they are used by other countries like Brazil, for example. In recent years, subcategories of this method have developed and you can find yellow, red, black, white honey depending on several factors like the amount of mucilage left on the seed or the amount of sun received.
The coffees resulting of this method are halfway between a natural and a dry process coffee; it is fruity, has a rounded acidity and a complex body.