Differences in "Processing" Coffee

Differences in

Dry-processed, naturally processed, honey processed, unwashed, washed, semi-washed, wet-hulled? What?!? Why would anyone want unwashed coffee, wouldn’t that just be dirty coffee? Why would I want anything “processed?” Isn’t processed a bad thing with food and beverages? These terms are about as confusing as their definitions and can often be quite lengthy. I get asked constantly what these forms of processing mean, so I wanted to break each down and explain the importance as concise as possible.

Did you know that coffee is technically classified as a fruit? What we know as coffee is actually the bean inside! Processing coffee is the drying, removal of the skin, flesh (mucilage,) and hull. So why is the way coffee beans are processed important? Well if you asked me, and I think many would agree, that way coffee beans are processed is arguably the single most contributing factor to the coffee’s flavor. Some of these processing methods are just as much a part of the region’s culture as the farming itself. Climate plays an extremely important role in what options farmers even have when it comes to how their coffee will be processed.

Let’s first start with the washed process. Although this is one of the newest forms of processing coffee it is now the most common. For fully washed coffee, a machine referred to as the “depulper” removes the skin, and you guessed it, the pulp (fruit flesh.) From there, the beans are either placed in a tank where fermentation removes any remaining pulp or mechanically done through a machine scrubbing process called aquapulping. The latter of these is preferred by some because it provides more consistency and uses less water. Our Dawn, Trailhead, and Basecamp utilize this fully washed process.  

There is also a semi-washed coffee, which is also a process also known as wet-hulling, honey processing or Giling Basah in Indonesian which loosely means “wet grinding.” For those that enjoy a less acidic coffee, this method should be a priority for you when selecting your beans. This process involves removing the skin while leaving a majority of the pulp on the bean and then leaving the beans to rest. This allows the pulp to slightly dry on the beans, once the beans with pulp are ready they are washed similar to the fully washed process where the pulp, hull, and any debris are removed. This process was extremely intriguing to me as my stepfather’s family originates from Indonesia and most days I prefer a less acidic coffee, which is why our Summit roast is my go-to. One downside to fully or semi washing coffee is the wasted water, to combat this, most regions are being required to repurpose the water for things like fertilizer.

Dry-processing, natural processing, unwashed processing all refer to the oldest method of processing coffee. This process is still extremely popular, especially in places where humidity and rainfall are less common. The process is relatively simple; coffee is harvested and most commonly laid out to dry in the sun for up to a month and the fruit is frequently rotated to ensure even drying. The skin, pulp and husk are all removed mechanically and the beans are then sorted by quality.

There are a few other up and coming processes, but for the most part, washed and unwashed are the most common that you will see across the globe. As for which process is the “best,” it really depends on who you ask. Depending on where you are, asking which process is best, can actually be a fiery subject and result in some heated discussions!