November 01, 2023
Coffee, we reckon it's the world's most beloved beverage! Where would we be without it? This magical commodity has a rich and complex journey – from bean to cup there's a whole lotta work that goes into transforming this mighty little cherry into a delectable brew. At the heart of this incredible journey lies coffee processing, a crucial step that significantly influences the flavour components of your morning coffee. From processing methods and techniques, the art and science behind turning a coffee cherry into a delightful cuppa is definitely a journey worth brushing up your knowledge on.
The Scoop On Coffee Processing:
Coffee processing is when the beans inside a coffee cherry are separated – this is one of the most important steps! Believe it or not, coffee is first and foremost a fruit. The bean is found inside the fruit and must be extracted via what we coffee nerds call 'processing'. Without processing, we would not be able to get the good stuff: the small but mighty coffee bean.
To start, we need to get into the anatomy of a coffee cherry. A coffee cherry consists of several layers, each with unique characteristics:
Outer Skin: The outermost layer of the coffee cherry is often referred to as the exocarp. It is often red or yellow in colour when ripe and ready for picking.
Pulp: Just beneath the skin lies a layer of sweet and sticky pulp, also known as the mesocarp.
Mucilage: Below the pulp, a mucilaginous layer, known as the inner mesocarp, surrounds the coffee beans. This is where much of the coffee's sugars are stored.
Parchment: A thin, flaky layer of parchment, scientifically known as the endocarp. This papery layer surrounds the coffee bean.
Coffee Beans: Inside the parchment layer, you'll find the precious, precious coffee bean.
The most common coffee processing methods are:
Washed (or Wet) Process: This method involves the removal of the skin and pulp using Depulper machines. Once the pulp is removed from the beans, they are submerged in a water tank where fermentation will remove the remaining fruit flesh. The washed process is synonymous with producing clean, bright coffees with a refined level of acidity.
Natural (or Dry) Process: This is the OG coffee processing technique, used for hundreds of years! Whole cherries are dried out in the sun before the beans are removed. This process allows the beans to draw out the full flavour of the fruit and its natural sugars. This often leads to a fuller body with juicy, fruity and wine-like flavours.
Honey Process: This relatively new technique is a variation between the washed and natural process. Think of the honey process as a hybrid between the two. Honey processing involves removing the skin and pulp but leaving the sticky mucilage layer intact. This can result in a spectrum of flavours, depending on the mucilage's thickness. By the way, there is no actual honey involved here!
Anaerobic Process: This particular method of coffee processing is making the rounds in the specialty coffee industry at the moment! The term 'anaerobic' or 'lack of oxygen' refers to the environment during the fermentation step. All coffee goes through a level of fermentation during processing. By omitting oxygen, the coffee produces distinct acids that create some pretty wild flavour profiles. An anaerobic coffee could also undergo a washed, natural, or honeyed process.
A coffee's distinctive flavour profile is heavily influenced by the type of process used during harvesting.
Coffee processing bridges the coffee cherry and the cup of coffee you enjoy every morning. Wrapping your head around the art and science of coffee processing can deepen your appreciation for this beloved drink.