There is of course a lot of information regarding the coffee you buy, but processing method is by far one of the most ubiquitous. ‘Processing’ is an umbrella term which applies to the way the farmers deal with the coffee cherries after they have been picked ripe off the tree. In recent years, the developments farmers are making in this area are staggering, and this is an essential part of what determines the profile of the final cup. There are many detailed areas of coffee processing, and we will focus on some of the most common methods.
This method is fairly straight forward, and is very common in a lot of African countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, because it helps deliver the bright, clean coffees these countries are known for. The process involves the farmers removing the exocarp (skin), and mesocarp (mucilage / pulp) from the cherry, leaving the seed encased in the endocarp (parchment) to be washed ,whereafter it is sun-dried and prepared for shipment. Washed coffees tend to taste cleaner, brighter, and reveal a lot of the subtle complexities within each individual coffee.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have natural coffees, sometimes called ‘sun-dried’, and there is an ever-increasing variety of methods for this style of preparation, but the one thing they have in common, is that the farmers leave the mesocarp surrounding the cherry, which ferments as the coffee is dried. Often, the skin is still removed, and the pulp may be broken, but it is always left on to utilise the development of the present sugars to create interesting, bold flavours. Farmers have discovered literally hundreds of ways to do this, whether it involves wine making techniques of breaking down the cherries in carbonated containers (Carbonic Maceration), fermenting the cherries in oxygen-free environments (Anaerobic Fermentation), fermenting the cherries in a warm environment before suddenly washing them in cold water (Thermal Shock Method), or even ageing the coffee in used whiskey barrels, and this is literally the tip of the iceberg, with new methods being used every harvest, and more innovative and unique ways of achieving this. Farmers often utilise these methods to enhance the flavour of less complex or lower quality cultivars such as Catimor and Castillo, and end up with coffees that can compete with cherished cultivars like Pink Bourbon and Sidra. These processing methods vary in taste profile, from bold and juicy, to vibrant and boozy — and are sure to make a memorable cup.
Honey processing was, and still is, less common than the other two, and falls right inbetween. It involves selective removal of the coffee pulp, with white honeys being close to washed, going between yellow, orange, red, and black honey processes as they incorporate more and more mucilage on the cherry. This method finds a great balance between the other two, and has been responsible for creating some of the highest scoring coffees on the planet!