I bet you’ve sometimes wondered what steps it takes to bring a nice cup of coffee to your table. Most people know about coffee beans, but what phases happen before the roasted beverage is on sale at our everyday restaurants and convenience stores? Where do coffee beans come from, and what techniques are utilized in processing them? Read on in this article to know all about that.
Where are Coffee Beans Gotten From?
Some might assume that coffee beans grow on a plant. It’s true in a way. Although, coffee beans don’t start from that form. The first state is the cherry fruit. Coffee beans are the seeds of fruits from Coffea plants called coffee cherries. These are also called stone fruits, which appear red and sometimes purple. The seeds are called coffee beans because they resemble actual beans.
Coffee berries house seeds that are split into two. Sometimes, these fruits have seeds that don’t split and are referred to as peaberries because the bean looks like a pea. A Coffea plant takes about five years till it’s ready for harvest. Unfortunately, the plant doesn’t grow under every climatic condition but thrives in warm climates. The subtropical and equatorial regions of Latin America and the Caribbean are great locations.
There are different species of coffee beans, but the most economically essential varieties are the Arabica and the Robusta. Arabica covers about sixty per cent of the global production, while Robusta covers about forty per cent. Although sometimes you might find some of the other species under certain conditions. Speaking of which, different species of coffee beans include Liberica and Excelsa. Some say there’s another specie called Coffea Racemosa.
Of these species, Arabica consists of less caffeine at about 0.8 to 1.4 per cent, while Robusta has more at 1.7 to 4.0 per cent. Naturally, Racemosa has low levels of caffeine. About less than half of the amount in Arabica and about a quarter of what’s in Robusta. Sometimes, Excelsa is claimed to be a subspecies of Liberica coffee beans.
What is Coffee Processing?
Coffee processing refers to the phases involved in harvesting the cherry fruits and seeds and preparing the coffee beans by drying them before reaching the roasting stage. There are numerous ways to go about processing coffee beans. All include various experimental techniques. But for the sake of this article, we’ll discuss a few.
Methods of Coffee Processing
Three main methods of coffee processing are The wet method, also known as the washed method, the Dry or natural and the honey process. Let’s take a look at each of these techniques.
- Wet Method
Also known as the washed method, this process involved the removal of the skin, mucilage and pulp from the coffee cherry fruit using water and fermentation. This method is the most popular. Newly harvested fruits are sorted, sometimes by hand, for ripeness, and then the coffee beans are separated from their layers. The removal of the layers is termed “depulping”.
A machine called a “depulper” is used for the depulping process. This stage usually happens within eight to twelve hours. Sometimes, after this process, some layers of mucilage are still attached to the seed serving as fruit fibres. Next up is the fermentation phase.
The fermentation process requires a fermentation tank. The coffee seeds are placed in the tank for about twelve to thirty-six hours. The aim is to lose the remaining mucilage attached to the seed, thereby assisting with getting rid of the stickiness when washing. Avoid leaving the green coffee beans in water for too long. Over-fermentation could happen to result in a sour coffee taste.
After fermentation is the washing phase, the green coffee seeds are immersed in fresh water and agitated to remove the loosened mucilage. This process is done a couple of times. Some producers re-sort the beans again. After sorting, the green coffee beans are laid outside, usually on tarps, to dry. The beans are raked several times daily to ensure even drying. The goal is to achieve a moisture level of about eleven per cent before bagging and packaging is transported to roasters.
Coffee processed using the wet method typically has a clean flavour regarding flavour profile. Some claim the washing procedure yields a better taste as washing doesn’t infuse flavours into the coffee. The washed or wet process is typical in African and Latin American countries. You’ll find that some coffee that has undergone this process has hints of tastes like sugar cane, fruit acidity, and chocolate.
- Dry Method
The dry method is also known as the natural method. In this technique, the fruit’s layers remain intact on the seed through the duration of drying. This is the most direct and oldest method of processing coffee beans. The method is also ecology-friendly as it doesn’t require water use. Using this technique requires meticulous attention to detail on how the coffee is dried. The aim is to prevent moulds or odd flavours.
In this technique, the cherry fruits are harvested ripe, sorted, weighed and moved to a drying area. Often, a raised platform or bed allows proper airflow around the cherries. The fermentation process in this technique is unlike the washed method. Fermentation occurs as the cherries dry under constant attention. It takes about three to four weeks for the cherries to dry and the coffee beans inside to reach eleven per cent moisture levels.
The coffee is passed through a drying mill to remove the fruit and layers around the coffee beans after drying. The coffee beans are then packaged and ready to be shipped. In terms of flavour profile, coffee made using this method has an intense fruit flavour. The fruit tones could be blueberries and strawberries and taste like wine. This method is commonly used in Yemen, Brazil and Ethiopia.
- Honey Process
The third technique, known as the honey process, falls between the wet and the dry methods. Like the washed method, the skin and pulp layers are removed, leaving a part of the mucilage, within twenty-four hours of harvest. This leftover mucilage is the honey-process defining sugary layer, and it’s left to dry. This step is what likens this method to the dry or natural technique.
Also, just like the dry method, this method doesn’t use water and, in turn, turns out ecologically friendly. In the fermentation phase, the mucilage takes only a short amount of time to dry, resulting in a significantly lesser acidity level. The drying period’s duration and sunlight exposure determine the type of honey process. There are four types: white, yellow, black and red honey. Each type differs by the length of exposure to the sunlight during drying.
The drying is done either on a tarp under direct sunlight or in a greenhouse for better-concentrated fermentation. The fermentation and drying process could take three to four weeks, depending on weather conditions.
Types of Honey Process Methods
- Yellow Honey
This process uses minimal water to wash off the excess mucilage. This technique is otherwise called the semi-washed method. The coffee beans are then exposed to direct sunlight to aid in quick drying and fermentation control. A machine washer is used during the washing procedure. When maxed up to extremes, the result is referred to as.
- White Honey
This method is the least fermented of all and effectively boosts sweetness in coffee.
- Red Honey
Red honey doesn’t require water. Instead, the cherry’s pulp is exposed to direct sunlight for about two to three weeks. This process yields a little bit more acidity.
- Black Honey
This is the most labour-intensive of the honey processes. A long drying period while deliberately sheltered from direct sunlight also makes it time-consuming. The aim is to allow the survival of yeast and bacteria, which intensifies the acidity level.
In terms of flavour profile, there is a range across the levels from white to black honey. The white honey has a borderline washed flavour, while the black honey has a deep fruity taste. The other levels’ flavours are found in-between. This method is prominent in Costa Rica and Brazil.
In conclusion, check out the processing method when you purchase your next coffee beans. What you’ve learned here will give a better insight into what to expect from each processing method. You could use this information to your advantage by picking specific coffee brands and products that provide the flavour note you desire based on the processing methods.