Coffee processing is an essential, labor-intensive part of getting your beans from the tree to your cup.
Coffee cherries do not all ripen at the same time — even cherries on the same tree, on the same branch, and down to the same cluster. Since some will ripen before others, they must be picked individually by hand. Coffee farmers often have to visit each tree several times to get all the cherries at their individual peak ripeness.
Once they’re picked, the coffee bean must be extracted from the ripe cherries.
Four Layers to Reach The Coffee Bean
To separate the bean from the coffee cherry, a total of four layers must be removed:
Tough, shiny outer skin
Sticky mucilaginous pulp of the fruit
Stiff parchment casing
And the thin, delicate “silverskin”
There are three main methods to isolating the bean from the fruit — the wet process, the honey process, and the dry process. The method used is primarily based on the availability of fresh water.
Wet process coffee, also known as washed coffee, is the method of removing the outer layers of the fruit and pulp with water before drying the beans.
The wet process starts with pulping or removing the outer skin of the cherries using a pulping machine, which leaves behind the coffee beans covered in a layer of sticky mucilage.
From there, the beans are placed in water tanks to ferment for a period of time to break down the mucilage. In there, a carefully monitored and controlled enzymatic reaction helps the sticky fruit to swell and loosen from the beans inside.
Fermentation may last from 12-36 hours, depending on the atmospheric conditions and the coffee itself. If done right, the fermentation will yield coffee with crisp, fruity acidity and aromatic high notes. If left too long in the fermentation tanks, the beans will rot and develop the dreaded “ferment” flavor — and need to be thrown away.
Once fermentation is complete, the beans are washed to remove any remaining mucilage. The coffee will have the parchment layer intact and be left out to dry on large patios in the sun or drying beds. To ensure even drying, beans must be raked and turned several times per day.
Honey process coffee, also known as pulped natural or semi-washed coffee, is a method of processing coffee beans that combines elements of both wet and dry processing. In this method, the outer layer of the coffee cherry is removed like in the wet process, but the sticky mucilage layer is left on the bean during drying like in the dry process. This results in a coffee with unique flavor characteristics and a sweet, syrupy taste.
Like in the wet process, the cherries are pulped using a pulping machine, which leaves behind the coffee beans covered in a layer of sticky mucilage.
After pulping, the beans are spread out in the sun or on drying beds to dry until the moisture content reaches a specific level. During this process, the mucilage layer remains on the bean, which gives it a golden or amber color and a sticky texture.
Once the beans are dry, the outer layer of fruit and mucilage is removed using a hulling machine, which leaves behind the coffee beans
Honey process coffee can have a wide range of flavor profiles depending on the amount of mucilage left on the bean during drying. Coffee processed with more mucilage tends to have a sweeter, more complex flavor with notes of honey, fruit, and nuts. Honey process coffee is also known for its full body and smooth mouthfeel.
Dry process coffee, also known as natural process coffee, involves drying the whole coffee cherries in the sun or a machine without removing the fruit and pulp first. This method is commonly used in regions where water is scarce or expensive.
Using the dry process, whole cherries are spread out in the sun or in a machine to dry until the moisture content reaches a specific level. During this process, the fruit and pulp shrink and turn into a hard, protective layer around the beans.
Once the beans are dry, the outer layer of fruit and pulp is removed using a hulling machine, which leaves behind the coffee beans.
Dry-process coffee tends to have a heavier body and a more intense, fruity flavor profile compared to wet-process coffee. The natural sugars in the fruit can also give dry-process coffee a slightly fermented taste. However, because the cherries are not washed before drying, dry-process coffee can also have more variation in flavor.
Tower Coffee is Flavor Above All
At Tower Coffee, we choose only Grade 1 beans from the top coffee growing regions in the world. All of our farm partners carefully process their coffee to deliver the highest-quality green beans for us to roast. It's one critical step in how we achieve Flavor Above All.