While bean origin contributes the most to a coffee’s flavor, processing methods also make a meaningful difference. At one end of the spectrum, there is washed or wet processing. At the other end, there is natural or dry processing. Between those two is a processing method called honey or pulped natural.
Washed or Wet Processing Method – The choice of most producers
Most of the coffee we drink is washed coffee. Producers opt for this method, because of the consistency it brings to the flavor. The wet method also highlights the characteristics of the bean the most. This method begins with sending ripe-picked coffee cherries through a machine that removes the outer skin while leaving in the pulp. Next, the pulp-covered seeds are agitated while soaked in water. Then the coffee sits in water to ferment. Finally, after fermentation, the beans are rinsed thoroughly before being dried on raised beds or in a dryer. While this method has its advantages, it requires significant and consistent water usage.
Natural or Dry Processing Method – Lingering fruity aftertaste
The natural or dry process originates from Ethiopia. Once picked, the fruit is left on the bean to dry. Depending on how much rain a region gets, this method may not be suitable as mildew can grow and spoil the batch. However, this method creates a lingering sweet flavor that is not present in washed coffee due to the bean fermenting along with the pulp.
Honey or Pulped Natural Method – Sugar without sugar
This process is generally associated with Costa Rica, though many Latin American countries have started to use this processing method. Essentially, the pulp or mucilage is left on the beans as they dry. As a result, the drying bean is sticky – as though as you put honey on it. Appropriately, this processing method gives a subtle sweetness, just like adding honey to a cup of coffee.
Looking Ahead – More processing methods
Many different origins have started to experiment with different processing methods, unlocking many unique flavors from the coffee. Furthermore, some producers are experimenting with new processing methods – something to keep an eye for.