Pick the cherry, pack the beans and send? Not so fast...
Here are the three most common paths to our holy beverage...
Washed: The most common process where the coffee cherries are pulped and the remaining fruit flesh is washed with water. The seeds are left with a thin layer of fruit called “mucilage” on the parchment for a short fermentation. They are then moved to drying platforms where they are exposed to sunlight until a specific bean humidity is reached. The drying process requires three to four days.
Pulped Natural / Honey: The most contemporary of all methods. It is different to the traditional washed process in which the coffee cherry is kept with most of the fruit flesh. This characteristic allows a better fermentation process where sugars present in the flesh are absorbed by the beans giving it a more accentuated flavor and aroma. The drying phase occurs in closed environments with transparent protections meaning that sun light reaches the beans indirectly. Drying can take up to two or three weeks.
Natural: Historically used in locations with scarce water resources. This method does not include pulping of the coffee cherry and therefore does not require any water to wash or ferment. In fact, the cherries are left to dry out and ferment from the inside under the sun until they harden out and get brown. This process has a stronger fermentation and therefore can take flavor notes to a point closer to alcohol and earthy aromas.
Would you like some bacteria to your coffee?
It is possible to expand the effect of fermentation by using increased bacteria or “anaerobic methods”. This process can be applied on any of the methods mentioned before. Directly after pulping/washing or even with whole cherries, the coffee beans are placed in a sealed container covered with water, removing as much air as possible. Under controlled temperature and humidity, fruit sugars will start reacting similar to what happens in the beer maturation process. Nowadays coffee process experts would even experiment by adding yeast of different fruits to the process to find out their effects on flavor. Other processes include the maturation in Whiskey or Rum barrels, which adds particular aroma to the bean and is strongly noticeable in the final product.
One last thing before your leave..
When beans are dry enough, they are taken to a processor to remove the final layer, theparchment. This process reveals the final naked bean in its greenish color. At this point, the beans are ready for local roasting or, as it is mostly the case , export.
The most important question remains…
What separates a good coffee from an exceptional coffee? The quality of the bean, the process, the roasting or the brewing? Getting all of the steps right!