We asked roaster Jake Baldwin to share his knowledge and expertise to explain what processing is and how processing methods can affect the final cup.
Well before coffee arrives at cafes and ends up in your cup, the coffee cherry and its seed are put through development and quality control measures which are referred to as ‘processing’. When you purchase roasted coffee beans from specialty retailers like Padre Coffee, the processing method will most often be printed on the bag.
Producer Auricel Conde with coffee drying under shade at Finca La Primavera
There are a wide range of techniques used, the most common being 'natural', 'washed' and 'honey'. Each of these refers broadly to the amount of fruit left on the coffee beans (or seeds) as they undergo fermentation.
Natural processed coffee is left to ferment and dry in the whole fruit (including the skin), generally resulting in a sweeter, fruitier and heavier-bodied cup than their washed counterparts.
Honey Process coffee laid out to dry at Finca La Primavera
Washed coffees have the fruit pulp mechanically removed, and are then fermented in tanks of fresh water, removing any remaining pulp and mucilage from the seed. Following that, the seeds are left out to dry, and the resulting cup is typically clean, crisp and with a bright acidity.
Coffee cherries at Finca La Primavera
Honey process coffees sit somewhere in between, with a partial amount of mucilage left on the bean as it ferments and dries. Honey process coffees typically result in a cup that displays the best of both worlds, often with the big body of a natural alongside the crisp acidity of a washed coffee.
These three methods are the most common and traditional methods of processing coffee, however more experimental processing methods, including those with extended fermentation, are becoming more widely known and popular. Some of these methods can result in extremely unique cups, which we sometimes describe as ‘funky’ or even ‘boozy’.
Coffee undergoing anaerobic fermentation in a sealed bag at Finca La Pradera
It’s important to note that these are generalisations and that each coffee is unique. However, we think that knowing how the processing method can typically affect the final cup is useful, especially when you are first learning how to taste coffee.
Coffee cherries require processing, not only to become stable and thereby exportable, but also to achieve the flavours that we desire in the cup. Processing alone does not dictate the quality of a particular lot of coffee; other factors that contribute to the final cup include the varietal, the climate, terroir, and environmental conditions in which the coffee was grown, along with the harvesting practices used.
Coffee seeds falling from the pulper, which mechanically removes the fruit flesh and mucilage from the beans.
However, processing is a very important factor in how that particular region, or particular producer, expresses what flavours that coffee possesses. Fermentation is a vital part of this journey from farm to cup and it is the producer who ensures only the best qualities are brought out with processing.
Much like any good food preparation it is vital that the equipment used supports the technique and knowledge of the producer. If you've ever left cheese in your refrigerator for a little too long you will be familiar with how fermentation can go too far and spoil an otherwise delicious product. Controlled fermentation requires a sound understanding of the process and good quality, easy to operate facilities to produce coffee with balanced acidity and sweetness.
Auricel's son, Andru, in the fermentation tank at Finca La Primavera
With this Good Coffee Doing Good initiative, we’re raising funds to help Auricel upgrade his fermentation tank, through the sales of his delicious coffees. Currently he and his team work with equipment that requires a significant amount of manual labor on top of the already tireless work they carry out as part of running a coffee plantation.
Andru operating the coffee pulper at Finca La Primavera
By working with him and bringing his already delicious coffee to passionate coffee drinkers like yourself, we can provide support to help improve the ergonomics, efficiency, the sustainability of their work with coffee, and most importantly their welfare and livelihoods as coffee farmers.
Auricel Conde at Finca La Primavera