In previous Thumpology articles we’ve discussed how the roast can affect a coffee’s flavor. How it is processed after harvest can have an even more significant influence on its ultimate flavor.
Not to be confused with processing food, which might involve removing nutrients, adding artificial stabilizers, flavors, preservatives, etc., processing coffee is an all-natural sequence of steps taken after picking the coffee to prepare it for market.
Coffees are harvested when the fruit surrounding the bean, known as the cherry, is ripe. The cherry holds necessary sugars and desirable flavors that need to be infused into the coffee bean. Farmers use two primary processing methods to release these flavors from the cherry: the dry process and the wet process.
Dry Process (aka Natural Process):
The cherry is left on the bean and dried naturally in the open air by sunlight on large patios, where the coffee is continually raked for even drying and mildew prevention. Once properly dried, the cherry is removed from the bean. The dry process method can be hard to control due to the coffee’s vulnerability to environmental elements (rain, humidity, sun) while drying. The end result can be mixed and unpredictable. A dry processed coffee may be heavy bodied, sweet, smooth and complex.
Washed Process (aka Wet Process): The cherry is removed from the bean, but a thin, sweet, slimy layer, called mucilage, remains. The beans are placed in fermentation tanks for 12 -36 hours for flavor development, then they undergo extensive washing to remove remaining mucilage and fermentation residue. This is a more controlled method with more consistent results. A washed process coffee may taste cleaner, brighter, and fruitier.
The washed process is water intensive and is more likely to be used in growing regions with easy access to water – and by farmers with the money to build the infrastructure needed for processing. Whereas the dry process is likely to be used in growing regions with lower humidity and reliably dry, sunny periods to prevent the cherries from mildewing while drying.
Our May featured coffee is Costa Rica Montes de Oro – Washed Processed. Previously, we carried the natural processed Montes de Oro, which was heavier, even thick in body and very citrusy. By contrast the washed version is very clean, smooth with very balanced citrus notes. The same bean, processed differently has yielded extremely different results. Which is better? That’s up to you to decide!