Coffee processing plays a huge role in the flavour and experience of your brew. If you’re wanting to understand why you love the taste of coffee, learning about processes is a good place to start. Plus, if you were needing an excuse to try lots of different coffees… here it is!
Karvan Taste Notes
Look at your coffee’s description and you’ll see information about the beans. At first, this info can seem random. You might think, “how does this relate to my espresso?” Let us assure you: these details are very important.
Before the coffee beans are poured as espresso or even roasted, much of the flavour has already been decided. Altitude, coffee varietal and the process (what we’ll be discussing here) work together and impact the green bean’s flavour. When the green beans are delivered to the roastery, it’s up to the expertise of the roaster to make these qualities shine through.
If you’ve purchased Karvan coffee beans from us, you can find the process method included on your taste notes or, in the description, online. Karvan Blends have a blend of different beans (and therefore, different processes) sourced from various origins. Single Origin Karvans are just 1 origin and therefore have 1 process listed. To understand coffee processing, we recommend trying a selection of Single Origins with different processing methods. This way, you’ll be able to isolate different processing methods and compare their unique qualities.
What is a Coffee Process?
In a nutshell – coffee processing refers to how the fruit of the coffee cherry (called Cascara) has been removed from the green bean. Be warned, this sounds much simpler than it is. There are many, many ways this can be done, each step impacting the flavour of the coffee bean.
**To learn more about the bean’s journey, read our blog How To Choose Your Coffee Beans | The Coffee Bean’s Journey
Washed, natural, honey, anaerobic, carbonic maceration, extended fermentation, rum barrel… and the list goes on! Processing can be widely varying and experimental.
The most common processing methods are washed and natural. When you browse a roastery’s Single Origins, the chances they’ll offer 1 washed, processed coffee and naturally processed coffee are likely. To avoid writing a whole novel on coffee processes, we’ll touch on these two popular methods.
Washed coffee process (also known as wet process) involves removing the cherry fruit from the coffee bean before laying out the green beans to dry. This process is regarded by many as the best coffee processing method, as it offers a clean cup of coffee whilst holding onto the complex flavours naturally inherent in the beans.
We believe that one process isn’t necessarily better than another and it all comes down to taste preferences, which is a subjective experience.
The washed coffee process is a technical method that requires a mammoth understanding of the crops, the climate, and the green beans. In addition, there are different ways washed coffee can be achieved. The options of processing are truly endless, with each step (no matter how small) affecting the green bean and, therefore, your cuppa.
Washed Process Steps:
- Sorting: before anything can begin, the coffee cherries must be picked from the crops. This can be done with machinery or by hand. Then, the cherries are carried to a washing station where they’re carefully placed in water. Good coffee cherries will rest at the bottom of the water whilst B-quality cherries (damaged, under ripe, marked, etc.) will float to the top. The B-quality cherries are removed.
- Pulp: once the farmers have sorted out the A- from the B-quality cherries, the cherries are de-pulped. Often machines are used for this step, removing the fruit from the green bean.
- Fermentation: green beans are placed into a water tank for fermentation. The time of fermentation is widely differing depending on the farmer’s preference, the type of coffee, the altitude and the weather. Commonly, it can vary between 18 – 24 hours.
- Drying: green beans are taken out of the tank to dry. Again, how the beans are dried will depend on various factors. Beans can be dried out in the sun or in mechanical dryers. This drying stage is crucial in achieving the ideal moisture content (around 12%) for the specific beans.
One downfall to washed coffee is the water waste. Coffee origins spread across the bean belt have sunny tropical climates where water can become scarce. Because of these climatic conditions, natural processing is the best choice for the environment.
A Cup of Washed Coffee
One washed coffee will taste very different from another. However, the overall consensus is that a cup of washed coffee will deliver a clean, crisp and complex brew. Washed coffee is noted as the purest way to drink coffee as you will be able to taste more of the flavours within in the bean. Other methods, such as naturally processed, exhibit flavours driven by the processing method. Read further to find out why.
Washed coffee’s arch-nemesis (just joking; )), natural coffee (also known as dry process, unwashed or natural sundried) offers a wildly different experience for the drinker. Ultimately, what differs from the natural process from the washed is that the coffee cherry is left on the green bean during the drying stage. By leaving the cherry, the green bean soaks up the fruity flavours from the Cascara. This process offers a flavoursome cup that can really wow the drinker on the first sip.
Just like with the washed process, one natural coffee will taste very different from another. There are numerous directions farmers can take their natural process and these methods are increasing as new innovative technologies are developed. It’s truly an exciting time to be in the coffee industry.
Natural Process Steps:
- Picking: whether by machine or handpicked, healthy coffee cherries are chosen by the farmers.
- Drying: coffee cherries are taken straight to the drying phase with the cherry fruit left on. The fruits are spread out on beds to soak up the sun. The specific farm, origin, climate and altitude will affect how long the cherries are dried for. Some farms dry their coffee on raised beds, parabolic beds, brick patios and more. Drying can be as short as a couple of a days and as long as several months. It’s up to the knowledge of the farmer on the best route to take. Cherries are often raked/turned several times a day to ensure even drying. If there is rain, they’re covered.
- Resting: cherries are rested for an amount of time before taken to the next step.
- Hulling: after the cherries have dried, they are then taken to mills where the fruit will be removed from the bean.
A Cup of Natural Coffee
The biggest difference between washed process and natural processed coffees is when the cherry fruit is removed. This then greatly changes the flavour of the cup of coffee. Some coffee origins specialise in one processing method over another due to their climate and terrain. For example, Brazil delivers exceptional natural coffees as the origin receives little rainfall but lots of sunshine.
If we were to loosely sum up a cup of natural coffee, we would say – fun, fruity and juicy.
Processing Isn’t Everything
As we’ve mentioned throughout this blog, there are many steps, both big and small, that greatly impact your end cup of coffee. Every step of the bean journey is crucial.
Processing plays a big role in your coffee experience. However, it’s by far not the only step. We encourage you to read your taste notes, learn about different coffee origins and visit the roastery where your beans are from.
We welcome all coffee lovers (and even the decaf drinkers) into our roastery to see the behind-the-scenes of how their Karvan beans are roasted.